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Why do language
families matter?


Just as it is becoming harder and harder to imagine a world where communication is not simply a function of economics to be squeezed, Altera acts as a kaleidoscope for linguistic diversity, not for the sake of driving peoples apart, but for celebrating us in all our own ways.


Each language family is an insulated world of many differences. For every linguistic oddity featured in science fiction, there is a language family or isolate that was the inspiration or source for its invention. Language families contain shared innovations and suggest some form of cultural ties or ancestry.


Language families also chart linguistic evolution and thus can be helpful in thinking of degrees or latitudes of difference among languages the same way biologists chart evolutionary lineages with taxonomic ranks. To put things in perspective, there are more commonalities between Welsh and Hindi—nearly a continent apart—than there is similarities between Turkish and Greek or Basque and Spanish, which are geographically adjacent and culturally similar in other ways. Language, as a cultural layer, is thus responsible for interesting cultural ironies.

Instead of a dozen or so language families represented in the world at the political level, more than two hundred language families and isolates make it onto the map, making it easier to trace cultural heritage and the oldest origins. These linguistic groupings are responsible for the dazzling thousand and one languages used in official capacities across the globe.


How are language families represented?


Language families connections 2.png

Visualize the latitudes of difference and unexpected shared heritages between the languages featured in Atlas Altera by generating language family tree diagrams with this beta program. 

Which languages
make it?


In Altera, more than a thousand languages or lects make it onto the map.


With the backing of states, these languages can flourish, but more importantly, have some safety in that collective memory of these cultural artifacts are guaranteed as much as the political world order in play, the very one that supposes the state as the main backdrop for the human condition—the locus for human aspiration and struggle. 

Still, there are not enough states to fill the myriad languages and dialects of humankind, each one with their own idiosyncrasies as much as ingenuities, and each with their poetries and knowledges. As states capture or grow organically out of peoples, lexicon inevitably becomes a site of violence. With time, the words of the marginal and non-state others will die or fade into obscurity. This is progress—or so we're told. 

The prevailing or state-backed official language of a country is represented by Altera language cards. Each card shows the the state in which it is spoken, the three-letter ISO 639-3 code and corresponding language in the real world, what language family and major branches it belongs to, as well as a preview of the writing system used to represent it.

Language Tree

Countries of Altera by Language Family



Language Families of Altera


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