from the world's big
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5% to 15% molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Some intriguing examples of people grooming the land for the unseen observer above.
- All over the world, people are writing messages and symbols on the land that can only be seen from above.
- These messages are not for God, but for our fellow humans – pilots, balloonists, or an abstract Mapmaker in the Sky.
- Non-symbolic communication with the heavens can be traced back to a cartographic innovation by Da Vinci.
Da Vinci's satellite map<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUxNDk4MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDQ3NjA1NH0.pwxhZqmNmsV1VN6OhuYEPEctiVPT-5TpOFQ_Ckx18h8/img.jpg?width=980" id="4069b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d843bbff9e737d425e1c97a6bec6f8e6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bLeonardo da Vinci's paradigm-shifting map of the Italian town of Imola (ca. 1502)." />
Leonardo da Vinci's paradigm-shifting map of the Italian town of Imola (ca. 1502).
Image: Leonardo da Vinci - public domain<p>In Minnesota, there's a forest shaped like Minnesota. You wouldn't know it when you're near it, or even in it; you can only see it when you're flying above it. </p><p>Across the world, people have altered the land to write messages that are invisible on the ground and can only be seen by – well, by whom, exactly? Airplane pilots and their passengers, hot-air balloonists, satellites, and the Great Mapmaker in the Sky. But why?</p><p><em>When</em> is easier to answer, for this kind of message to the heavens above is a relatively modern phenomenon¹, which can be traced back to a map produced by Leonardo da Vinci.</p><p>Produced centuries before the launch of the first satellite, or even the first hot-air balloon, Da Vinci's map of the Italian city of Imola (ca. 1502) is <a href="https://kottke.org/19/04/how-leonardo-constructed-..." target="_blank">the world's first straight-from-above map</a>. <br></p><p><a href="https://kottke.org/19/04/how-leonardo-constructed-a-satellite-view-map-in-1502-without-ever-leaving-the-ground" target="_blank"></a>Until then, city maps had used the hillside (a.k.a. bird's-eye) perspective, showing their subjects aslant. These panoramic pictures were pretty, perhaps; but usually inexact and certainly incomplete. </p><p>For his Imola map, Da Vinci used the <em>ichnographic</em> perspective – a concept developed by the Roman architect Vitruvius to describe the art of drawing realistic ground plans, as if observed from directly above. </p><p>The map pleased Da Vinci's paymaster Cesare Borgia, for it provided better military intelligence than traditional, postcard-style city maps; but more importantly, it changed cartography forever. </p><p>Out with the oblique perspective went symbolism and embellishment. Today, virtually all maps are ichnographic – hard data observed straight from above. </p><p>The change is part of a larger paradigm shift, from a theocentric worldview to a human-centered one. From time immemorial, people have felt the gaze of Higher Authority bear down on them from on high. </p><p>But something crucial in that relationship started changing in the Renaissance. The increasingly accurate attempts at depicting the world from above brought down a new kind of scrutiny: quantifiable measurements instead of moral judgments.</p><p>And that warrants a different kind of response. You converse with the divine by building temples, churches, and mosques that reach skyward with magnificent domes and spires. You can talk back to the Great Mapmaker in the Sky in a more vernacular language. Like showing him a map of your state; or spelling out the name of your favorite car brand; or building the world's biggest guitar out of trees. <br></p>
Emmery's Celtic cross<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUxNDkzOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODUyNDA4Mn0.Fwy3WlAmyWyy9BJvNCQk4WugpmuJNOEy07l_kw4YX5s/img.png?width=980" id="adcda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4b7cdc5764d5961303a33dc0a05358be" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Emmery's Celtic cross in Killea, county Donegal, Republic of Ireland, close to Londonderry in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom." />
The cross became visible with the turning of the leaves in the fall of 2016.
Image: YouTube<p>In 2016, air passengers flying into Derry airport in Northern Ireland spotted a giant Celtic cross in the treetops of Killea, just across the border in country Donegal, in the republic of Ireland. </p><p><span></span>Local forester <a href="https://www.irishcentral.com/travel/emmery-celtic-cross-donegal-forrest" target="_blank">Liam Emmery</a> created the pattern around 2005 by planting two different types of trees. Sadly, Mr Emmery died in 2010, six years before his creation became visible. </p><p>The figure, more than 100 m long and 70 m wide, is named the Emmery Celtic Cross in his memory. According to local horticultural experts, Emmery's cross could remain visible for up to the next 70 years. <br></p>
Heart-shaped clearing<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUxNDk0NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODE1MzgzNX0.4q4mh-oYmlqZ8CFNd2OyjIktMO9NznD6Gje2TGd-_pc/img.png?width=980" id="44d55" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a25f6d1efb4ca5f00fe65e2166563892" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Heart-shaped clearing in a wood near the farm of Winston Howes in Wickwar, Gloucestershire (England)." />
The heart is farmer Winston Howes' monument to his wife Janet, who died in 1995.
Image: Google Earth<p>When Janet Howes died suddenly in 1995, her heartbroken husband of 33 years was determined to build her a<a href="https://www.countryliving.com/uk/wildlife/countryside/a22526193/british-farmer-secret-heart-shaped-meadow-late-wife/" target="_blank"> lasting memorial</a>. Winston Howes planted thousands of oak saplings on a six-acre field near his farm in Wickwar, Gloucestershire. <br></p><p>In the middle of the field, he left a heart-shaped area clear of trees; the heart's point is oriented towards Wotton Hill, Janet's childhood home. The trees have now grown to create a heart-shaped oasis for Winston to remember his wife in. </p><p>The remarkable monument to love cannot be seen from the road, and remained a secret until it was noticed in 2012 by a passing hot-air balloonist. In spring, daffodils come up in the clearing, enhancing the beauty of Mr Howes' bittersweet retreat. <br></p>
As Luecke would have it<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUxNDk1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDI1MTc1OH0.lQWajGaiJ99WS_rsrkJWOzSe6f9Usby2FV2K5jTTdEw/img.png?width=980" id="5a727" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="648217e4ada46ab35295ce0ef778baac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="The 2.5-mile long autograph of Jimmie Luecke on his farm outside Austin, Texas." />
The 'autograph' is so large that NASA has used it to calibrate its orbital instruments.
Image: Google Earth<p>In the early 1980s, <a href="http://atlasobscura.com/places/giant-luecke-signature" target="_blank">Jimmie Luecke</a> struck it rich in the chalk oil boom in Texas. With his seven-figure oil fortune, he went into the cattle business, and bought a ranch 50 miles east of Austin. </p><p><span></span>When clearing new grazing land in the late 1990s, Luecke had the luminous idea to leave large, long strips of pine forest untouched, creating a 2.5-mile long version of his name, in capital letters – surely, the largest autograph the world has ever seen. </p><p>It's a signature so large that NASA in 2003 used it to calibrate the spatial resolution of the photographs taken by its astronauts. It's also a familiar sight to pilots and passengers flying in and out of Houston airport.<br></p>
Studebaker lives on<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUxNDk1OC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwODQwMDIzOX0.yf9nZsD6QnIZAhpE3QjX2FdxVC7FJsZG2kgy6oUzeW0/img.png?width=980" id="b8662" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f072714a9751dec3b5a1d818260268b5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Trees spelling out 'Studebaker' at Bendix Woods County Park, west of South Bend, Indiana." />
The trees next to Studebaker's former proving ground still spell out the defunct brand's name.
Image: Google Earth<p>Studebaker, the U.S. car brand, has been dead since 1966. But Studebaker, the forest, lives on. Rows of trees still communicate the name to the heavens at the defunct manufacturer's former proving grounds, now Bendix Woods County Park, due west of South Bend, Indiana. <br></p><p>In 1926, Studebaker was the first U.S. car manufacturer to inaugurate an outdoor proving ground. In 1937, when Studebaker was still merrily churning out Commanders, President,s and Dictators (sic), the company planted 5,000 pine trees there to spell out its name.</p><p>Rumors that the former proving ground also was a Studebaker graveyard was confirmed when the remains of a number of never-produced prototypes were found. Only a few were in a well enough state to be rescued, including a Champion station wagon now on display at the <a href="https://studebakermuseum.org/" target="_blank">Studebaker National Museum</a> in South Bend, Indiana. <br></p>
Graciela's guitar<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUxNTEwMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTc0MzE2Mn0.ohu99CQkLELSHhrOhnRjSTo7IN5E3lJoPozD9UE4vJ8/img.jpg?width=980" id="d5116" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f7834f995726bb4417769ac1d9708fb7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="The instrument was created in 1979 by local farmer Pedro Martin Ureta, as a tribute to his wife Graciela, who sadly died during childbirth two years previously." />
Breaking the monotony of the Pampas squares - the unexpected shape of a guitar
Image: NASA Earth Observatory - public domain<p>From the sky, Argentina's fertile Pampas are parceled out into an interminable tapestry of squares in all possible sizes and combinations. But that monotony is broken near the town of Laboulaye by the recognizably round shape of a guitar.<br></p><p>The instrument was created in 1979 by local farmer Pedro Martin Ureta, as a tribute to his wife Graciela, who sadly died during childbirth two years prior. The guitar is made up of more than 7,000 cypress and eucalyptus trees, and stretches two thirds of a mile across the landscape. </p><p>The guitar is huge enough to be observed not just by planes flying overhead, but also from space. <a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/83561/guitar-forest" target="_blank">This image</a> was taken in November 2007 by the Advanced Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on the Terra satellite. <br></p>
Solar Mickey<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUxNTI3Mi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzU0MTA1Nn0.tVXSlnRUDr9SdQhTxfnLHms6wkE-e9exnNNnzKvbQjo/img.png?width=980" id="ae8cd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c11ca8a33ed0e5389335d2d04d0225f3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="48,000 photovoltaic cells arranged in the unmistakeable profile of Mickey Mouse in Orlando, Florida." />
48,000 photovoltaic cells arranged in the unmistakeable profile of Mickey Mouse.
Image: Google Earth<p>Rather understandably, the Disney Corporation has a Mickey Mouse fetish. It makes a sport of inserting 'hidden Mickeys' into the landscape, which often can only be observed from above. </p><p>There's one in Disneyland Drive, leading into the corporation's theme park in Orlando, Florida. There used to be a Mickey-shaped forest just north of the park, but that's been felled. </p><p>A more recent incarnation is the unmistakeable shape of Mickey Mouse's mug made up of <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2016/02/29/disney-world-taps-solar-power-with-mickey-mouse-pv-project/#6c1e008d6b7d" target="_blank">48,000 photovoltaic cells</a>, spread out over 20 acres, producing an average of 10.5 million kWh per year.</p>
Minnesota, Minnesota<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUxNDk2MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNDYyNDM1MX0.VYCdNC4QPm9kOnosRf4Gpec8tCIV_NwJSv3pb_Svje4/img.png?width=980" id="cd705" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31cb8fd50d75989de9fbdf03c7eaaadd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A Minnesota-shaped forest in Forest Area Township, in the northern part of the state." />
This Minnesota-shaped forest started as a clearing back in the 1990s.
Image: Google Earth<p>This homage to Minnesota was created on state forest land, managed by the DNR Division of Forestry. It is located about 4 miles south of Faunce, in northern Minnesota's Forest Area Township, halfway between Red Lake and Lake of the Woods. <br></p><p>Back in the 1990s, forest engineer <a href="https://medium.com/alt-ledes/what-a-mysterious-forest-shaped-like-minnesota-taught-me-about-time-travel-a8c6bbdc947a" target="_blank">Bill Lockner</a> was tasked with clearing away dying pine trees when he allowed himself some fun in the process. He cleared an area with the exact contours of the North Star state. </p><p>Over the years, younger trees grew up in the clearing; and when in the early 2000s the surrounding older-growth pines were cut, what was left was the current Minnesota-shaped forest. <br></p><p><strong><br></strong></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1039</strong><br></p><p><em>Do you know of any other geoglyphs or other types of land art that were made specifically and exclusively for being observed from above? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.</p><p>(1) Despite ongoing uncertainty about their age and purpose, ancient geoglyphs such as the Nazca Lines or the so-called White Horses of England can be observed from nearby elevations, and thus were most likely not made for being observed from above. <br></p>
Two remarkable etymological maps show twin forces at work throughout human history.
- These two maps capture the centrifugal and centripetal forces at work throughout human history.
- See how the Proto-Indo-European word for 'brother' spreads and changes, in both sound and meaning.
- And how the Proto-Germanic word for 'stranger' now is a familiar fixture of European toponymy.
Name that animal (in Proto-Indo-European)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b6be896ff2aac19ff166ee25bbd4074"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/7epZo_BQFqA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>What is the difference between a brother and a stranger? Distance and time. As both grow, what is familiar becomes less so. As they decrease, what is strange becomes familiar. </p><p>These two maps neatly capture those two driving forces of human history – centrifugal and centripetal – via the rather unexpected medium of etymology. The first one goes back all the way to Proto-Indo-European, and the video above gives a hint of what that may well have sounded like.<br></p>
Brothers, friars, buddies<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ4MTA5NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTA5OTQ1OX0.JAPB7ZuOI_gwNELnPIa-podL2rm2ZlL26OOXMdx9Jf4/img.png?width=980" id="52f50" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4e1947a158a36bc1fa69e3566f49fb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map showing the spread over time and place of the Proto-Indo-European word for 'brother'." />
Map showing the spread over time and place of the Proto-Indo-European word for 'brother'.
Image by u/Virble, found here. Reproduced with kind permission.<p>The first one shows the spread of the word Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word for 'brother' across an area stretching from Iceland to Bangladesh. Although it may no longer seem obvious to speakers of Icelandic and Bengali, the word they use to refer to their mother's (other) son derives from the same source. </p><p>We have no direct record of PIE. It has been reconstructed entirely from the similarities between the languages of the Indo-European family, based on theories of how they have changed over time.</p><p>The most common hypothesis is that PIE was spoken from 4500 to 2500 BC on the Pontic-Caspian steppes, the grasslands stretching from Romania across Ukraine into southern Russia. Its speakers then migrated east and west, so PIE eventually fragmented into a family of languages spoken across Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. </p><p>Those languages may be mutually unintelligible now, but the similarities between certain basic words still points to a common origin. And that's how we've been able to reconstruct <em>bʰréh₂tēr,</em> PIE for 'brother'.</p><p>Via Proto-Balto-Slavic, this turns into <em>brat</em> (in Russian and all other Slavic languages). Proto-Germanic is the intermediate to modern German <em>Bruder</em>, Scandinavian <em>bror</em>, Dutch <em>broer,</em> and English <em>brother</em>. Via Proto-Italic, we get Latin <em>frater</em>, and that gives similar-sounding words in French (<em>frère</em>), Italian (<em>fratello</em>), and Romanian (<em>frate</em>). </p><p>Things get interesting in Iberia. The local languages use another word entirely to describe brotherly kinship: it's <em>hermano</em> (in Spanish) or <em>irmão</em> (in Portuguese). This derives from the second word of the Latin phrase <em>frater germanus</em>, which means 'brother of the same blood' (literally: 'of the same germ'). The phrase was used to distinguish between 'blood brothers' and brothers by adoption, a common occurrence in Roman times.</p><p><em>Frater</em> does have a descendant in the Iberian languages, but <em>fraile</em> (Spanish) and <em>frade</em> (Portuguese) only mean 'brother' in the ecclesiastical sense – similar to the English term <em>friar</em>. The change in meaning is indicated by the dotted line across the Pyrenees. Another dotted line on the Greek border denotes another shift in meaning: in Proto-Hellenic, <em>*</em><em>phrātēr</em> means 'citizen' rather than 'brother'. </p><p>On its march east, the PIE word for 'brother' transforms into Proto-Indo-Iranian, then branches off into distinct Proto-Iranian and Sanskrit strands. The Proto-Iranian (<em>*bráHtā</em>) radiates slightly to the west and more vigorously to the east; the modern Persian word (<em>barâdar</em>) makes it into Turkish as a loan word, but again, the meaning changes. In Turkish, <em>kardeş</em> is what you call your little brother (or little sister), while an older brother is called <em>abi</em>. <em>Birader</em> means 'brother' in a more symbolic sense, as 'buddy' or 'comrade'. In Hindi and throughout the subcontinent, <em>bhai</em> and slight variations are the commonest word to express the brotherly bond. </p><p>While the Icelander and Bangladeshi might have some trouble recognising the other's word for 'brother', it's remarkable that PIE's original term resonates so well in so many modern languages. As one commenter (on Reddit) said: "I am now fascinated by the idea that I can just go to a random village in the middle of Afghanistan, find the oldest man in town who has never heard or seen a foreigner, and that when I say 'brother' to him with a faint Jamaican accent he will probably understand what I mean, because the word in his native language sounds almost exactly the same."<br></p>
Howdy, stranger<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ4MTA5Ni9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NzA0NDcwMH0.vBw3b-7ZSo_JTC6-yDv0oiJuF-Xcn6xYi5GiLqOEhkA/img.png?width=980" id="a6054" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f1571d1a8668cb86287efbfc8d05eb8e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bThe Proto-Germanic word for 'stranger', and its impact on the map of Europe." />
The Proto-Germanic word for 'stranger', and its impact on the map of Europe.
Image by u/Virble, found here. Reproduced with kind permission.<p>In other words: brotherliness can survive great distances across time and space. The second map shows the opposite: how 'stranger-ness' can persist, even in close proximity. The Proto-Germanic word for 'stranger' is <em>*walhaz</em>.</p><p>Early on, it became the default term to describe the closest 'others', as in Old Norse, where <em>Valr</em> means 'southerner' or 'Celt'. As such, it became attached to a number of southern/Celtic regions and countries, most famously Wales but also Gaul, Cornwall and Wallonia. </p><p>As the Gallic tribes were Romanised over time, the German(ic) term came to be applied to Romance speakers specifically, as for example in <em>Welschland</em>, the Swiss-German term for the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The Swiss-French term is la Romandie or la Suisse romande.</p><p>Something similar happened after the Proto-Germanic term was borrowed by Proto-Slavic. <em>Vlokh</em> came to mean 'Roman speaker', and was applied to the people (<em>Vlachs</em>, a former name for Romanians) and the region (<em>Wallachia</em>, in present-day Romania). The term <em>Vlachs</em> still applies to Romance-speaking minorities in the southern Balkans. In Polish, a variant <em>Wlochy</em> is used to describe the country the name of which in most other languages resembles 'Italy'. </p><p>The dots represent city and town names containing the term, indicating points of contact between 'us' and 'them'. These points are particularly plentiful in Britain, and in other areas of Western Europe where the friction between invading Germanic tribes and resident Roman citizens was strongest.</p><p>But while that clash of cultures persists in place names, the inhabitants of Walcheren (in the Netherlands), Wallasey (in the UK), Wallstadt (Germany), Welschbillig (France), Walshoutem (Belgium) and all the other dots on this map have stopped thinking in terms of 'us' and 'them' a long time ago. At least in terms of the 'locals'. There's plenty of other <em>walhaz</em> in the world, even if they are brothers from another mother. </p><p><br><em>Maps reproduced with kind permission of Reddit user </em><em>u/Virble. For more of his etymological maps, check out <a href="https://www.reddit.com/user/Virble/" target="_blank">this overview</a></em><em> of his Reddit contributions. </em></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1038</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.</p>
Mapping the frequency of common toponyms opens window on Britain's 'deep history'.
- A place name is more than a name – it's a historical record of the name-givers.
- By examining some of the most common toponyms, Britain's 'deep history' is revealed.
- See where Danes, Welsh, and Anglo-Saxons stamped their name on the land.
Washington DC is a place named after a person who was named after a place. This is Washington Old Hall, the ancestral home of George Washington, in the northern English town of Washington.
Image: Public domain
Giving a location a name is a possessive act. It transforms an 'anywhere', a random space, into a 'somewhere', a certain place. A place with meaning, not just for the name-givers, also for later generations. Because place names are sticky. They can survive for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. And even if today's toponym, worn with use, sounds different and lost its original meaning, it still remains a 'vector of trans-generational communication'.
In isolation, each toponym is like an archaeological dig – hiding multiple layers beneath a well-trodden exterior. In context, surprising toponymical patterns emerge. As in these maps by Helen McKenzie. She's disassembled British place names to examine the frequency of some of their most common constituents. They reveal deep history hiding in plain sight, on countless road signs across the UK.
Denmark's footprint in England
The toponymic suffix -by is most prevalent in the area around the Humber.
Image: Helen McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission
Take -by (or -bie). It's one of the most common suffixes in place names throughout England, but also Scotland and Wales. Familiar examples include Grimsby and Whitby, on the North Sea coast; Derby inland, Formby on the Irish Sea coast and Lockerbie in Scotland.
There are hundreds of other examples, and they are among the most lasting relics of Scandinavian influence in Britain. By in Old Norse signified a farmstead or village. In modern Scandinavian languages, a 'by' still means village or city. In English, the word has also given rise to the terms 'by-election' and 'by-laws' – although pronounced differently than the suffix.
As the map shows, the suffix is most prevalent in the area around the Humber, and northern England in general. This is the core of what was once known as the Danelaw, a large swathe of northern and eastern England that was under Danish rule for about 80 years, until the expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe from Northumbria in the year 954.
But 'by' also occurs in Wales, as far south as Cornwall and as high north as central Scotland – a testament to the scale of Scandinavian involvement in Britain.
The valleys of Wales, and beyond
The green, green valleys of south Wales.
Image: Helen McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission
The anglicised version is 'coombe', which gives an indication of how to pronounce what looks like three consonants in a row. As the Welsh word for 'valley', it stands to reason that this toponym is most prevalent in the valley-rich south of Wales. Examples include Cwmbran, Cwmafan and Cwmfelinfach.
As for the comparative antiquity of British languages, Welsh is the much older rival of English. The post-Roman, pre-English inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic antecedent of Welsh. They were pushed west by the invading Anglo-Saxons. A telling – but disputed – piece of toponymic evidence is the Welsh word for England, Lloegr, which some say means 'lost lands'.
Better evidence are the many Celtic-influenced place names throughout England, including such well-known toponyms as Dover or Manchester. Focusing on Cwm and its anglicised variant, we find pockets throughout southern, central and northern England, as well as in Scotland.
Tons of -tuns all over Britain
The area of central England around Merseyside has the heaviest concentration of -tons and -tuns in Britain.
Image: Helen McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission
'Tun' is an old English word for enclosure that is cognate with Dutch 'tuin' ('garden') and German 'Zaun' ('fence') – for more on that, see #615 – and by way of 'ton' gave rise to 'town'. Perhaps the world's most famous example is Washington: the U.S. capital's name derives from the country's first president, whose name comes from the eponymous town in northern England. Its name, in turn, probably originated as Hwæsingatūn, the estate (tūn) of the descendants (inga) of Hwæsa – an old English first name that means "wheat sheaf".
The Anglo-Saxons planted countless tuns/tons throughout England, with the second-highest concentration in the northeast, around Washington. The highest concentration, though, is centered on the part of central England towards Merseyside (Liverpool and environs), with Bolton, Everton, Preston and Warrington some of the best known examples.
But really, there are tuns and tons all over Britain, with distant areas of Scotland and Wales the only exceptions. Note the concentration in southwest Wales: southern Pembrokeshire, once known as Little-England-beyond-Wales.
Maps reproduced with kind permission of Helen McKenzie. For a few more maps on toponymy and a lot more on other subjects (including emploment density in Hackney and otter sightings in the UK), check out Ms McKenzie's Instagram, at helen.makes.maps.
Strange Maps #1037
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.
- J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
- But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
- These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Mental decolonisation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDU4Mjg3N30.pKS1PLxKYeJ6WDPAcleg7NCxzDn7Pddcg9rSJaul6no/img.png?width=980" id="56ee5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1d2ba98946accd12f7e0070c8d10154d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society." />
Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society.
Image: Arda.ir<p>Where on earth was Middle-earth? Based on a few hints by Tolkien himself, we've always sort-of assumed that his stories of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were centered on Europe, but so long ago that the shape of the coasts and the land has changed. </p><p>But perhaps that's too easy and too Eurocentric an assumption; perhaps, like so many other things these days, Tolkien's fantasy realm too is in dire need of mental decolonisation.</p><p>And here's an excellent occasion: an Iranian Tolkienologist has found intriguing hints that the writer based some of Middle-earth's topography on mountains, rivers, and islands located in and near present-day Pakistan. </p><p>As mentioned in a previous article – recently reposted on the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/VeryStrangeMaps" target="_blank">Strange Maps Facebook page</a> on the occasion of the death of Ian Holm – Tolkien admitted that "The Shire is based on rural England, and not on any other country in the world," and that "the action of the story takes place in the North-West of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean."<br></p>
Non-European topography<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ4MzcyMX0.891LPW42L78fdrwUhXdgOab7cbhs3YOqZK4ukIQx-Rw/img.png?width=980" id="6741c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b50c57cb3b8a3a1cc8a4696c89ad954" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Tian-shan, the Himalayas, and the Pamirs" />
If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor...
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Extrapolating from the location of the Shire in Middle-earth and from other clues dropped by Tolkien, geophysics and geology professor Peter Bird matched the geography of Middle-earth with that of Europe (more about that in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/121-where-on-earth-was-middle-earth?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0ZFYK1EXrf4J3B3X5_U4hSAgidgBs24ZNTYV9QEFbz2qI34OA_DpZsn70#Echobox=1592583835" target="_blank">aforementioned article</a>).</p><p>However, seeing Middle-earth as a mere palimpsest for present-day Europe is to place an undue limit on the imagination of its creator. As Tolkien also said about the shape of his world: "[It] was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically or paleontologically."</p><p>In other words, certain parts of Middle-earth may very well have been inspired by other places than European ones. It is telling that it took a non-European connoisseur of Tolkien's topography to find some examples. <br></p>
"Seen that map before"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTQ3Njc3NH0.azDO1_NWm9q9FwMpmqBOV2troOX0ajAXS4lP2bLstJI/img.png?width=980" id="1b193" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21c3d38b14503ba8edac18c0ef1cceb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Indus river" />
The Indus river is a prominent geographical feature of Pakistan. Its course is similar to that of the Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>In an article published on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, the web page for the Persian Tolkien Society, Mohammad Reza Kamali writes that during several years of cartographic study, "I found that maybe there are real lands [that] could have inspired Professor Tolkien, and some of them are not in Europe."</p><p>Around 2012, Kamali's eye stopped when it came across a Google Map of Central Asia that showed the mountain chain of the Himalayas, the peaks of the Pamirs bunched together in an almost circular area, and the huge, flat oval of the Takla Makan desert, bounded to the north by the Tian-Shan mountains. </p><p>"I had seen that map before," he writes. "This is of course Mordor, the land of Sauron and the dark powers of Middle-earth, where Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring." </p><p>In <a href="http://lotrproject.com/map" target="_blank">Tolkien's world</a>, the Himalayas transform into Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow; and the Tian Shan into Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains. And the circle-shaped Pamirs "are the same shape and in exactly the same corner as the Udûn of Mordor, where Frodo and Sam originally tried getting into Mordor, via the Black Gate."<br></p>
Similar shapes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDQyODMzNX0.KHrY7rDCNNaKKJQz-xn431APM2TqxGPCaMsqNvBe1xA/img.jpg?width=980" id="7a9fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e87f1af97902201abc042640255606b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Marine Corps helicopter flying over Tarbela Dam" />
A US Marine Corps helicopter flying over the Tarbela Dam on the Indus river in Pakistan. At its center: a former river island which may have been the inspiration for Cair Andros, a ship-shaped island in Middle-earth's Anduin river.
Image: Paul Duncan (USMC), public domain<p>Mulling over these similarities, Kamali became convinced that Tolkien's map work was heavily inspired by Asia. Looking further, he found more evidence. Consider Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth, in whose waters the One Ring was lost for more than two thousand years. </p><p>On Tolkien's map, the Anduin bends toward the sea in a shape similar to that of another great river: the Indus, which runs the length of Pakistan. Like the Anduin, it flows to the west of a major mountain chain. A prominent feature of the Anduin is the river island of Cair Andros, just north of Osgiliath. Its name means 'Ship of Long Foam', a reference to its long and narrow shape, and the sharpness of its rocks, which split the waters of the Anduin like a prow. <br></p><p>Kamali is not entirely sure, but proposes that Tolkien may have been inspired by a similar-shaped island in the Indus. Now integrated into the Tarbela Dam, which was inaugurated in 1976, it would still have been a separate island in the 1930s and '40s, when Tolkien dreamed up his map.</p>
Kutch as Tolfalas Island<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTU5NjcyNn0.869W8iiowQb9_T3laFKOUe5o5UMXuMlSITb1VxRlC2g/img.png?width=980" id="9c49e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="548bafc6042cc7515e07f77657aa161c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Kutch" />
During the rainy season, the coastal region of Kutch, near the mouth of the Indus, turns into an island that resembles Tolfalas Island, near the mouth of the Anduin.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Turning our eyes to the mouth of the Anduin and Indus, we see another pair of islands, and Kamali is more certain about the real one having inspired the fictional one. The fictional one is Tolfalas Island, the largest island in Belfalas Bay. <br></p><p>At first glance, it doesn't seem to have a real-life counterpart near where the Indus joins the Arabian Sea. But take a look at the coastal part of the Indian state of Gujarat. It is known as <em>Kutch</em>, a name which apparently refers to its alternately wet and dry states. In the rainy season, the shallow wetlands flood and Kutch becomes an island – the biggest island in the Gulf of Kutch, and not too dissimilar to Tolfalas Island. </p>
General knowledge<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDIwODkyOH0.aInJedv3tiQo1LmW-M6D5LV699oeWNltxeYcVKWwtF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="9bc6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="01d97d3941f9ba732b4df35c3aedd977" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India" />
1909 map showing British India in pink (direct British control) and yellow (princely states). Circled: Kutch, clearly recognisable as an island.
Image: Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons, public domain<p>But are these similarities really more than coincidences? Why would Tolkien, who was based in Oxford and steeped in English lore and Germanic mythology, turn to the Indian subcontinent for topographical inspiration? Perhaps because cartographic knowledge of that part of the world was far more general in Britain then than it is now. Until the late 1940s, the countries we know today as India and Pakistan were part of the British Empire. Detailed maps of the region would have been standard fare for British atlases. </p><p>Kamali is convinced that the topographical features on Tolkien's map of Middle-earth are not mere fantasy, but derive from actual places in our world, and were 'riddled' onto the map. In that case, we may look forward to more discoveries of Tolkien's real-world inspiration. <br></p>
From Frodingham to Frodo<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzgzMzE2OH0.uMd43VxS9WQSWr1Z0IQ-UxIhBYkERhxTU7hoPvNachk/img.jpg?width=980" id="05037" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff9aace7fc7c111df3639a276cedf63c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Photograph of J. R. R. Tolkien in army uniform" />
J.R.R. Tolkien in 1916, when he was 24. Around that time, he was stationed near the village of Frodingham, which may have given him the inspiration for the name of the main protagonist in Lord of the Rings.
Image: public domain<p>Here's one example of Tolkienography—if that's what we can call the effect of actual geography on this particular writer's imagination—which I gleaned myself, some years ago in East Yorkshire. A local historian told me that Tolkien had been stationed in the area during the First World War, and had apparently stored away some local place names for later use. The name Frodo, he said, derived from a town where he had attended a few dances – Frodingham, a village across the Humber in northern Lincolnshire, not far from Scunthorpe (<em>Scunto</em>? We dodged a bullet there). </p><p>Whether that story is entirely true or not is beside the point. As fantasy fans know, any grail quest is ultimately about the quest, not the grail. In fact, to quote Mr Kamali, the treasure is important only because it's well hidden, "by a clever professor who enjoys riddles."</p><p><em>Unless otherwise indicated, illustrations are from Mr Kamali's <a href="https://arda.ir/the-tale-of-the-annotated-map-and-tolkien-hidden-riddles/?fbclid=IwAR3RmtU0ZdyzQGlK-iCsUjho4LA2W279fwO9dt8vv90FX2IeO3zrfMuMToU" target="_blank">article</a> on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, reproduced with kind permission. </em><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1036</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em></p>
Europe is divided on whether films should have subtitles or different audio tracks.
- The boom of international content is fueling the rise of dubbing, or 're-voicing' the movie or series in another language.
- As old as the 'talkies', dubbing and subtitling won out over a competing technique known as 'multiple language versions'.
- As this map shows, Europe is deeply divided between subbing and dubbing – and between different kinds of dubbing.
Which version of 'The Woods'?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0fdf149c7a41b4589ff4233fb525e212"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4RlU1A_AJx4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>How do you like your foreign-language movies and series: subbed or dubbed? International content is booming on streaming services. So even for English-speaking audiences, long used to their language ruling screens both silver and small, it's an increasingly relevant question.<br></p><p>And one without a definitive answer: both subtitling and dubbing (a.k.a. 're-voicing') have inherent drawbacks. Watching something 'in foreign' means the subtitles subtract from the work's visual integrity; but choose the version dubbed into your own lingo, and you may feel short-changed in the authenticity department.</p><p>Nevertheless, most people have a clear preference one way or the other. Like Harlan Coben, whose 2007 thriller "The Woods" was adapted into a Polish-language Netflix series – and then subbed and dubbed back into English. He recently <a href="https://twitter.com/HarlanCoben/status/12714429766..." target="_blank">tweeted</a>: <em>"Netflix gives you the choice to watch The Woods dubbed or subtitled. I urge you to use subtitles, (but) you do you. Rock on." </em></p><p><a href="https://twitter.com/HarlanCoben/status/1271442976678588417" target="_blank"></a>Coben later <a href="https://twitter.com/HarlanCoben/status/12719074382..." target="_blank">replied</a> to a fan (who said they were watching the subtitled version): <em>"Yes. This is the best way to watch a show or movie – original language setting with your language in subtitles (but) if you want to watch with English dubbing, hey, cool, I'm not in the judging business."</em><br><br>Coben's opinion chimes with that of the 'arthouse' audience, which prefers to sample foreign fare in the original language with subtitles, for authenticity's sake. They're vocal about their preference, but recent data suggests they're the minority. As many as 36 percent of Netflix subscribers in the U.S. watched Spanish smash hit "Money Heist" ("Casa de papel" in the original) in the dubbed version. Only a few percent watched it with subtitles. </p><p>Moreover, there is evidence that good dubs increase audience engagement, and that viewers – American ones at least – are more likely to finish the dubbed version of an episodic drama than the subbed one. </p><p>The arthouse crowd might be unable to support the loss of the near-immersive quality of subtitling, but the obvious reason for the popularity of dubbing is practical: it's easier to use as 'wallpaper'. Just try to do the ironing while keeping up with "The Woods" in Polish with subtitles.<br></p>
Chaplin's "Easy Street" (1917) with live piano (2012)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0f9e6300a5ef2ef367f79daeab754276"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K1p-FRhfPfQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>One major argument for subtitles – besides the 'arthouse' one, that is: it's about 10 times cheaper than dubbing with a full voice cast, not to mention a lot faster. But that seems to be a consideration of the past. The aforementioned boom in international content is generating economies of scale that favor dubbing. Netflix alone works with 165 dubbing studios around the world. </p><p><span></span>The rise of dubbing is symptomatic of the internationalisation of global viewing culture, long dominated by Anglophone productions. What's happening is in fact a re-globalisation. The silent movie ecosystem, which held sway until the late 1920s, was remarkably cosmopolitan. Re-purposing a silent movie for another language market was easy: just translate the title cards, and hey presto – another audience served. By 1927, your typical Hollywood film had its intertitles translated into as many as 36 languages.</p><p><span></span>When the 'talkies' came in, the movie industry stumbled headlong into something it had not yet experienced: a language barrier the size of the Tower of Babel. A spoken movie could reach only one language group. How to reach all those others? Subtitling and dubbing were used from the beginning, but for a few years in the early 1930s, it seemed a third solution would win out: multiple language versions, or MLVs. </p><p>Here's how that went: A movie studio would hire foreign-language directors and actors to re-shoot the same film, taking turns scene by scene. In 1930, for example, William C. de Mille's movie "The Doctor's Secret," originally in English, was simultaneously shot in Spanish, French, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Czech, and Hungarian as well. <br></p>
Dubbed in French, but with an American accent<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="938f0103d0c422df9285cdd21b5a27fc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vK78xIEMJBs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Some stars were too famous to be replaced, and had to re-shoot the MLVs themselves, learning their lines in another language. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's own French-language efforts became so familiar to audiences in France, that when they were eventually replaced with French voice-over artists, these had to keep the American accents of the original actors. </p><p><span></span>MLVs were cumbersome and costly, and by the mid-1930s, they had turned out to be an evolutionary dead end. Dubbing and subtitling started to take over and the industry never looked back. MLVs were occasionally revived though, even as late as 1979, when Werner Herzog shot German and English versions of the same vampire movie, using the same cast: "Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht" and "Nosferatu the Vampyre," respectively. </p><p><span></span>In a world dominated by Hollywood, dubbing established itself as the preferred translation method in France, Italy, Germany and Spain. These are Europe's four biggest non-English-speaking markets, so dubbing – more labor-intensive and up to 10 times more expensive than subbing – made more economic sense there than in smaller markets.</p><p><span></span>Subtitling became the go-to solution for most of those smaller markets: Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Balkans. </p><p>Yet some other smaller markets, the Czech and Hungarian ones to name two, also preferred dubbing. That's because economy wasn't the only factor. Cultural pride also played a part. France had always considered its culture and language a bit above the vulgar English tongue, for example. Another factor: politics. Dubbing was an attractive way to censor foreign imports, especially for the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, and Spain.<br></p>
The Terminator, in German: "Ich komme wieder"<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7e6b185ee9f33ca8d0f1dfd9eda7a76f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/93IYGIzIPRY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Once set, national preferences remained fairly stable after World War II, when the import of mainly English-language movies boomed across Western Europe. Today, Italy even has the <em>Gran Premio Internazionale del Doppiagio</em>, an annual Oscars-like ceremony for excellence in dubbing. </p><p><span></span>In bigger dubbing markets like Germany, voice actors became celebrities in their own right. Recently-retired German voice actor Thomas Danneberg dubbed around 1,500 movies into German, including Arnold Schwarzenegger's entire oeuvre (whose Austrian accent would have disqualified him from doing his own dubbing in High German). </p><p><span></span>Mr. Danneberg dubbed a great number of actors, which could be an issue when several appeared in the same movie. When Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone appeared together in "The Expendables" (2010), Danneberg made sure to say the lines of both at a slightly different pitch. </p><p>In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, another alternative gained prominence, called voice-over translation (VOT). Unlike with dubbing, where the original soundtrack is replaced, VOT adds the translated dialogue over the original, which remains audible. It's a technique familiar to Western audiences from documentaries or news reports, not for fiction. <br></p>
Subbing and dubbing map of Europe<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQxMTc1NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDE1MzI4OX0.K3W6_k5mB_oKFxpO0sQNZKe-JxN4fxnHN_g4UGdyIAk/img.png?width=980" id="ea3e7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c7249346ace7c79d05dac24a368acd68" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
In red: dubbing markets. Dark blue: subtitles, please. Yellow: voice-over translation. In green: markets using dubs from another language (i.e. Czech for Slovakia, Russian for Belarus). Light blue: Belgium, where the Dutch-speaking north prefers subbing, the French-speaking south subbing.
Image: MapChart, reproduced with kind permission<p>In Polish and Russian, 'lektors' are a cheap and culturally accepted way to translate foreign movies. In Russia, these are known as Gavrilov translations, after one of the three most prolific voice artists doing these single-voice translations. Each had their specialty. While Andrey Gavrilov went for action movies, Aleksey Mikhalyov gravitated towards comedy and drama, and Leonid Volodarsky is best remembered for his dubbing of "Star Wars." The tradition is continued by a new generation of Gavrllov translators.<br></p><p>But for how long? Because dubbing is improving at a terrific speed. In the near future, the technology behind 'deep fakes' will help produce dubs that perfectly synchronise the 'flaps' (dub-speak for mouth movements) with the words voiced over, while 'voice cloning' will be used to adjust the voice of the re-recording artist to that of the original actor.</p><p>It may convince the Eastern European markets to abandon VOT – which is the poor cousin of dubbing anyway. But it's less certain that it will dislodge subbing from markets where it's become ingrained, and frequently mentioned as a reason for relatively high levels of English proficiency. So it may be a while yet before the Terminator says "I'll be back" in Swedish. <br></p><p><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1035</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.</p>