In the world of complex data graphics, interactive nodal network diagrams can offer some of the richest data exploration opportunities. This week, the Macro Connections Group at MIT Media Lab released Global Language Network, an interactive visualization of the world’s many languages and their relationships to each other. 

Image from "Links that speak: The global language network and its association with global fame," by Shahar Ronen, et al., in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 11, No. 52; June 2014
Click the image above to launch the interactive

This colorful web of information represents an ideal use of the nodal diagram as a means of visual communication. Before you even glance down to see the legend or hover over the circles to view the associated data, a primary message emerges effortlessly: English stands at the center among the most popular languages, and shows that it has the most abundant and strongest connections with other languages. Meanwhile, circle colors suggest categories of related tongues, providing some intuitive context for the connection patterns.  

Perhaps the most fascinating part of this visualization is the range of data sources involved. The connection lines are based on how frequently texts are translated from one language to another, but users can choose to view data from books, Twitter, or Wikipedia. The visual results are remarkably distinct in each case.

Images showing translation data from books (left), Twitter (center), and Wikipedia (right)

Intrigued? In addition to exploring the visualization, you can read the associated paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. And for more on world languages and their connections, see Michael Balter’s story on the ancient spread of Proto-Indo-European tongues, from the May 2016 issue of Scientific American. (Subscribers: for full article content, including the associated graphic, click on the “download” link.)