An illustrated language family tree

While family tree diagrams normally tend to resemble branches only in structure, Finnish-Swedish comic illustrator Minna Sundberg has taken a much more literal approach.

The 25-year-old creator of fictional, post-apocalyptic comic “Stand Still. Stay Silent” has created a visual tree grouping languages into different families – showing the relationships between them through branches, and demonstrating the number of speakers through the size of the leaves.

Using data compiled from language resource, Sundberg initially drew the language tree graph for the benefit of her comic book readers, and included fictional historical references. “The original version is a page from the comic itself, and includes in-story lore, which confused the heck out of people who saw the graph posted without context,” she says. “I made an alternative version so that people who don’t read the comic could also enjoy it, and use it as teaching material.” 

The map demonstrates the similarities between the different Nordic languages that the characters in her comic speak: “I wanted to illustrate to my non-Nordic readers just how closely related the North-Germanic languages – Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish – are, and how absolutely non-related Finnish is in contrast,” she says.

She adds: “I’ve always been fascinated by just how large the cultural and geographic sprawl of the people who speak Indo-European languages is, while the Uralic languages are limited to a relatively small area.”

The original chart is one of several faux-history documents Sundberg has created for her comic. “I’d been using red a lot as the effect colour, so I felt like changing gears and using a cool green colour this time,” she says. “I’ve differentiated the shades of the leaves to make it easier to decipher which language belongs to each cluster – the branches are packed close so it’s easy to get lost between them otherwise.”

Before creating comics, Sundberg studied graphic design at Aalto University’s School of Industrial Arts in Helsinki, Finland.

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