The WALS Sunburst Explorer

Thomas Mayer thomas.mayer at UNI-MARBURG.DE
Mon Sep 15 07:17:38 UTC 2014

Dear typologists,

We're proud to announce the release of the WALS Sunburst Explorer (, an online visualization tool that combines areal
and genealogical information of the WALS database (Dryer and Haspelmath

The WALS Sunburst Explorer shows the values for all WALS features by
combining the geolocation of the respective languages with their genealogy
in a sunburst visualization (Stasko and Zhang 2000). The map and the
sunburst are enhanced with interactive functionality and linked views. The
user can select a region of the world map to get only those languages
spoken in that area displayed in the sunburst. The sunburst itself is
zoomable. If you click on a segment, only the languages of the respective
subfamily are displayed.

The main aim of the WALS Sunburst Explorer is to help its users to
distinguish between cases of language contact and genealogical inheritance
(Mayer et al. 2014; Rohrdantz et al. 2012). The combination of both types
of information can be approached from two different angles. The first
approach focuses on a given geographical distribution to explore whether
the languages in that area all belong to the same family and thus lead to a
clustering of the inherited feature at a certain region of the world or
whether there is a real contact situation with unrelated or distantly
related languages sharing the feature through borrowing. The second
approach concentrates on a given language family to check whether the
feature values are the same or similar for all members of the family or
whether a divergent feature value can be attributed to the fact that the
language is spoken in a different region and might have borrowed the
divergent feature from a neighboring language. The WALS Explorer provides
the necessary functionalities to tackle both approaches.

Thomas Mayer, Bernhard Wälchli, Christian Rohrdantz, Michael Hund


Dryer, Matthew S. and Martin Haspelmath (eds.). 2013. The World Atlas of
Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology. (Available online at, Accessed on

Mayer, Thomas, Bernhard Wälchli, Christian Rohrdantz and Michael Hund.
2014. From the extraction of continuous features in parallel texts to
visual analytics of heterogeneous areal-typological datasets. In Nolan,
Brian and Carlos Pascual-Periñán (eds.), Language processing and grammars:
The role of functionally oriented computational models (SLCS) (Serie:
Studies in Language). Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 13-38.

Rohrdantz, Christian, Hund, Michael, Mayer, Thomas, Wälchli, Bernhard &
Keim, Daniel A. 2012. The World’s Languages Explorer: Visual analysis of
language features in genealogical and areal contexts. Computer Graphics
Forum 31(3): 935–944.

Stasko, John & Zhang, Eugene. 2000. Focus+context display and navigation
techniques for enhancing radial, space-filling hierarchy visualizations. In
Proceedings of the IEEE Symposium on Information Visualization. Los
Alamitos CA: IEEE Computer Society, 57–65.

Thomas Mayer
Research Unit "Quantitative Language Comparison"
Forschungszentrum Deutscher Sprachatlas
Philipps-Universität Marburg
Deutschhausstraße 3
35037 Marburg

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