L: The vowel space with colour associations by a synaesthete. R: The same vowels displayed according to tongue position when produced. Visualization: Christine Cuskley & Mark Dingemanse. For an interactive version of this visual, see here.
Map accompanying news coverage of our study of the link between /r/ and rough textures. The red data points represent languages that often feature /r/ in words with words for rough textures but not words for smooth textures. Blue data points, much rarer, are cases where the pattern is the reverse. The map shows that overwhelmingly, languages prefer to express rough meanings with /r/ sounds (if they have them).
Shooing words —words that people use to chase away chickens— turn out to be highly similar across unrelated languages. These illustrations by Josje van Koppen accompanied a write-up about my serendipitous finding in popular science magazine Onze Taal.
The actual table from my paper looks a lot less exciting, but it does contain additional information about language families and about words for ‘chicken’ in the same set of languages. The basic conclusions is that words for ‘shoo’, but not ‘chicken’, show strong convergence towards sibilant sounds in 17 languages from 11 unrelated language families.
Illustrations from: Renckens, Erica. “‘Ksst!’ Het Lokken En Wegjagen van Dieren.” Onze Taal, 2020.
Not strictly a scientific visualization, and not by me. Still included here because it is a compelling illustration of the central point of this essay on brain-to-brain interfaces, which deals with naïve ideas about a cyberpunk future in which we’d be connected by wires instead of words. (Source of the image is Technology Review, who got it from shutterstock.)
Illustration accompanying news coverage in NRC of our paper on playful iconicity: when words sound like what they mean. By Jet Peters.
Illustration made by Frank Landsbergen for a piece on universal words I wrote for a popular science book. It covers three types of words that, each for their own reason, come out similarly across languages. The three types are: (i) interactional tools (huh? for repair, oh! for a news receipt); (ii) expressive interjections (au for ‘ouch’); and (iii) onomatopoeia (bam ‘BAM’).
Simplifying somewhat, interactional tools are similar across languages because the ecology they live in (the rapid-fire turn-taking of conversation) provides the same selective pressures across languages; a case of convergent cultural evolution. Expressive interjections may go back to ancestral vocalizations also found in our close evolutionary relatives. And onomatopoeia come out similarly to the extent that they imitate the same kinds of sounds.