Sunday, July 03, 2005

Work in progress: map of English parishes with names ending in -by

I'm going to be off again on another overseas trip, but I thought I'd do a quick post on something that's absorbed my attention for the past few evenings. As everyone and their mother now know, Google Maps have released an API. This post from Metafilter suggests some neat things you can do with it. Well, I thought, why not make some language maps with it? This is my first try at recreating the famous map by Smith of Scandinavian place-names in England. This map only shows the parishes with names ending in -by, an Old Norse ending meaning "village" or "town". It also doesn't show the border drawn by Alfred and Guthrum's treaty, which is the whole point of the original map, but I haven't figured out the latitude and longitude coordinates for the various points delineating the boundary (anyone know where the rivers Lea and Ouse are?), so I haven't plotted it yet. It will be there in a forthcoming edition of the map though. But it looks like the parishes plotted all land on the northern side of the boundary, which is as it should be, since that was the Norse side.

In making this map, I used a list of parish names provided by this program, Parish Locator. If it had provided its coordinates in latitude and longtiude I might have finished this map a lot sooner, but unfortunately I had to educate myself in eastings, northings and the British National Grid to figure it out. The formula for converting grid references to lat/long was rather complex, but fortunately a Perl module, Geography::NationalGrid::GB is available to do the conversion.

I think a lot of cool language mapping stuff can conceivably be made with Google or Yahoo maps, or indeed any of the open-source mapping software that's out there. Some data that would be needed, such as this list of language "waypoints", showing an approximate location of the place, are already available online. These can be combined with typological databases to show the geographic distribution of certain features, for example. Matthew Dryer has done a lot of work in this direction.

[Here is the link to the clickable Google map, if you're interested. You can click on the little balloons to see the names of the parishes. But, it will take some time to plot the points, and Firefox will give you all sorts of warnings about how the script will make your browser run slowly, so be warned.]