An Exquisite Snapshot of How Our Languages Evolved

Friday September 29, 2017 Written by amy

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When packing your apocalypse survival kit, you think: matches, food, pocket knife. You probably don’t think: foreign language phrasebook. But maybe you should. Minna Sundberg, the artist behind Stand still. Stay Silenta webcomic that draws on elements from Nordic mythology but which is set 90 years in the future – created this language tree to show how her Scandinavian characters are able to communicate with each other, despite speaking different tongues.

She’s synthesised complex linguistic data from into a language tree to show the evolution of and relationship between languages. She uses the size of branches and leaves to represent numbers of native speakers. Following the gnarled trunk up from its Indo-European roots, you can see where the North Germanic languages branch off. Fortunately for Minna’s Danish, Swedish and Norwegian apocalypse survivors, the close relationship between their languages means they can all understand each other. But things are trickier for the Finnish character, Lalli. Despite Finland being next door to Sweden, the Finnish language comes from the completely separate Uralic tree.

“Not from the same language family as the other four Nordic languages,” explains Minna in another illustration. “Absolute gibberish.”

Unfortunately for English speakers in a post-apocalyptic world, they’ll stand a chance at understanding the Scottish language (called 'Scots'). But not much else. Luckily for us, there’s always the universal language… the one spoken by the Muppets’ Swedish Chef. We’re sure he’d agree that Minna’s tree is totally bork bork bork.

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