Remember drawing family trees as a child? Really cleared up exactly how that shady uncle of yours featured into the family, didn’t it?
Linguists have often sought refuge in a similar tree metaphors to explain language families, a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor or a proto-language of that family. This doesn’t mean that all the speakers are biologically related obviously, but that the tree model exploring the origination of languages, in historical linguistics, compares languages to family members to highlight striking characteristics.
The number of existing ‘living languages’, one that that is used as ‘the primary form of communication’ of a group of people, clocks in somewhere between 5,000-8,000, depending on how you classify dialects. There are also dead, or extinct, languages that used to exist in ancient times but due to a gradual decrease in linguistic competence, native fluent speakers no longer exist. The 2013 edition of Ethnologue catalogs just over 7,000 living human languages.
Simple tree diagrams with undulating branches but no distinctive character have come to be visually unstimulating and can seem like a drag to pore over – enter Minna Sundberg, creator of the webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent. Creator of the post-apocalyptic webcomic “elements from Norse mythology mixed in, set 90 years in the future,” Minna has created a vivid, evocative rendition of the family language tree to unite them all, banishing monotonous linguistic tree diagrams to a different time dimension.
The great World-Tree or Yggdrasil of Norse mythology is supposedly the ‘axle-tree of creation’, its roots, trunk, and branches uniting the nine worlds. This great ash tree’s foliage depicts the population that speaks the language and while we are very taken with this visual treat, we can’t help but notice that South Indian languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malyalam and Tullu, to name a few are not to be found and Sanskrit - depicted as a budding little leaf on our side of the language tree, should in fact be a mother trunk, being one of the ancient languages of the world, originating as Vedic Sanskrit and tracing its linguistic ancestry back to the Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Indo-European family.