Latin, visualized

I’m dreaming of an infographic. It shows the top 1000 most common Latin words, broken into groups by semantic category. In each group, you can see at a glance the relative frequency of the words–which ones are the most common. Maybe the extremely common ones are bigger, maybe they rise higher into the third dimension. This information has been culled from the data assembled painstakingly by hand by the Belgian LASLA group, and in Diederich’s Frequency of Latin Words and Their Endings (1939).

Better than that, one can also see at a glance which words are predominantly poetic, which are predominantly prosaic, and which are neither particularly prosaic of poetic. Maybe that’s a color thing–redder for more poetic, bluer for more prosaic. Or maybe the poetic words are higher, up among the clouds, while the prosaic words tramp on the ground. This too has been determined based on the excellent data of LASLA and Diederich, which enumerates occurrences by poetry and prose.

And since the words are grouped by semantic categories, you can see what the main topics of preserved Latin literature are, its main preoccupations. The body. The house. Violence. Writing. Knowledge. Speech. The elements.

Here’s the question: what should be the visual theme? Should it be a landscape? A library?    A Roman temple? Those of you who are visually inclined, help me out. You can probably tell that I have been reading EdwardTufte (Envisioning Information). What if we could make the awesome frequency data we have come alive in graphic form? How cool a pedagogical tool would that be?

–Chris Francese

3 thoughts on “Latin, visualized

  1. What about a map of the city of Rome? “Body” words on the Capitoline. “Military” words in the Campus Martius. “Speaking” words in the Forum. Etc.

    • Very cool idea. I am also toying with the idea of sunflowers. Topic at center, words a varying sizes based on frequency radiating out.

  2. Who wouldn’t like a linguistic sunflower? On the model of the memory palace, I wonder if there might be some mnemonic advantage to a varied tableaux with distinct regions. Big fan of Tufte, by the way, as you probably gathered from my reference to Minard in the Nepos commentary. There are some many aspects of antiquity that would benefit from a good infographic.

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