## 3 questions to ask yourself next time you see a graph, chart, or map

### Start by reading the title, looking at the labels and checking the caption. If these are not available – be very wary.

Photo by Giacomo Carra on Unsplash

Since the days of painting on cave walls, people have been representing information through figures and images.

Nowadays, data visualization experts know that presenting information visually helps people better understand complicated data. The problem is that data visualizations can also leave you with the wrong idea – whether the images are sloppily made or intentionally misleading.

Take for example the bar graph presented at an April 6 press briefing by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. It's titled “COVID-19 testing in the U.S." and illustrates almost 2 million coronavirus tests completed up to that point. President Trump used the graph to support his assertion that testing was “going up at a rapid rate." Based on this graphic many viewers likely took away the same conclusion – but it is incorrect.

The graph shows the total cumulative number of tests performed over months, not the number of new tests each day.

When you graph the number of new tests by date, you can see the number of COVID-19 tests performed between March and April did increase through time, but not rapidly. This instance is one of many when important information was not properly understood or well communicated.

As a researcher of hazard and risk communication, I think a lot about how people interpret the charts, graphs and maps they encounter daily.

Whether they show COVID-19 cases, global warming trends, high-risk tsunami zones, or utility usage, being able to correctly assess and interpret figures allows you to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, not all figures are created equal.

If you can spot a figure's pitfalls you can avoid the bad ones. Consider the following three key questions the next time you see a graph, map or other data visual so you can confidently decide what to do with that new nugget of information.

## What is this figure trying to tell me?

Start by reading the title, looking at the labels and checking the caption. If these are not available – be very wary. Labels will be on the horizontal and vertical axes on graphs or in a legend on maps. People often overlook them, but this information is crucial for putting everything you see in the visualization into context.

Look at the units of measure – are they in days or years, Celsius or Fahrenheit, counts, age, or what? Are they evenly spaced along the axis? Many of the recent COVID-19 cumulative case graphs use a logarithmic scale, where the the intervals along the vertical axis are not equally spaced. This creates confusion for people unfamiliar with this format.

A March 12 broadcast of 'The Rachel Maddow Show' included a graph with unlabeled numbers and a tricky horizontal axis.

For instance, a graph from “ The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC, showed coronavirus cases in the United States between Jan. 21 and March 11. The x-axis units on the horizontal are time (in a month-day format) and the y-axis units on the vertical are presumably cumulative case counts, though it does not specify.

The main issue with this graph is that the time periods between consecutive dates are uneven.

In a revised graph, with dates properly spaced through time, and coronavirus diagnoses plotted as a line graph, you can see more clearly what exponential growth in the rate of infection really looks like. It took the first 30 days to add 33 cases, but only the last four to add 584 cases.

What may seem like a slight difference could help people understand how quickly exponential growth can go sky high and maybe change how they perceive the importance of curbing it.

## How are color, shape, size and perspective used?

Color plays an important role in how people interpret information. Color choices can make you notice particular patterns or draw your eye to certain aspects of a graphic.

Oregon landslide susceptibility. (Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries)

Consider two maps depicting landslide susceptibility, which are exactly the same except for reversed color schemes. Your eye may be be drawn to darker shades, intuitively seeing those areas as at higher risk. After looking at the legend, which color order do you think best represents the information? By paying attention to how color is used, you can better understand how it influences what stands out to you and what you perceive.

Shape, size and orientation of features can also influence how you interpret a figure.

Pie charts, like this one showing employment breakdown for a region, are notoriously difficult to parse. Notice how hard it is to pull out which employment category is highest or how they rank. The pie chart's wedges are not organized by size, there are too many categories (11!), the 3D perspective distorts the wedge sizes, and some wedges are separate from others making size comparisons almost impossible.

A bar chart is a better option for an informative display and helps show which industries people are employed in.

## Where do the data come from?

Survey posted on 'Lou Dobbs Tonight,' requesting viewers vote on Twitter about Trump's performance. (Fox Business Network)

The source of data matters in terms of quality and reliability. This is especially true for partisan or politicized data. If the data are collected from a group that isn't a good approximation of the population as a whole, then it may be biased.

For example, on March 18, Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs polled his audience with the question “How would you grade President Trump's leadership in the nation's fight against the Wuhan Virus?"

Imagine if only Republicans were asked this question and how the results would compare if only Democrats were asked. In this case, respondents were part of a self-selecting group who already chose to watch Dobbs' show. The poll can only tell you about that group's opinions, not people in the U.S. generally, for instance.

Then consider that Dobbs provided only positive responses in his multiple choice options – “superb, great or very good" – and it is clear that this data has a bias.

Spotting bias and improper data collection methods allows you to decide which information is trustworthy.

## Think through what you see

During this pandemic, information is emerging hour by hour. Media consumers are inundated with facts, charts, graphs and maps every day. If you can take a moment to ask yourself a few questions about what you see in these data visualizations, you may walk away with a completely different conclusion than you might have had at first glance.

Carson MacPherson-Krutsky, PhD Candidate in Geosciences, Boise State University

## How brothers become strangers, and vice versa

### Two remarkable etymological maps show twin forces at work throughout human history.

Image by u/Virble, reproduced with kind permission.
• 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)

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.

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.

### Brothers, friars, buddies

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 bʰréh₂tēr, PIE for 'brother'.

Via Proto-Balto-Slavic, this turns into brat (in Russian and all other Slavic languages). Proto-Germanic is the intermediate to modern German Bruder, Scandinavian bror, Dutch broer, and English brother. Via Proto-Italic, we get Latin frater, and that gives similar-sounding words in French (frère), Italian (fratello), and Romanian (frate).

Things get interesting in Iberia. The local languages use another word entirely to describe brotherly kinship: it's hermano (in Spanish) or irmão (in Portuguese). This derives from the second word of the Latin phrase frater germanus, 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.

Frater does have a descendant in the Iberian languages, but fraile (Spanish) and frade (Portuguese) only mean 'brother' in the ecclesiastical sense – similar to the English term friar. 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, *phrātēr means 'citizen' rather than 'brother'.

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 (*bráHtā) radiates slightly to the west and more vigorously to the east; the modern Persian word (barâdar) makes it into Turkish as a loan word, but again, the meaning changes. In Turkish, kardeş is what you call your little brother (or little sister), while an older brother is called abi. Birader means 'brother' in a more symbolic sense, as 'buddy' or 'comrade'. In Hindi and throughout the subcontinent, bhai and slight variations are the commonest word to express the brotherly bond.

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."

### Howdy, stranger

The Proto-Germanic word for 'stranger', and its impact on the map of Europe.

Image by u/Virble, found here. Reproduced with kind permission.

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 *walhaz.

Early on, it became the default term to describe the closest 'others', as in Old Norse, where Valr 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.

As the Gallic tribes were Romanised over time, the German(ic) term came to be applied to Romance speakers specifically, as for example in Welschland, the Swiss-German term for the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The Swiss-French term is la Romandie or la Suisse romande.

Something similar happened after the Proto-Germanic term was borrowed by Proto-Slavic. Vlokh came to mean 'Roman speaker', and was applied to the people (Vlachs, a former name for Romanians) and the region (Wallachia, in present-day Romania). The term Vlachs still applies to Romance-speaking minorities in the southern Balkans. In Polish, a variant Wlochy is used to describe the country the name of which in most other languages resembles 'Italy'.

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.

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 walhaz in the world, even if they are brothers from another mother.

Maps reproduced with kind permission of Reddit user u/Virble. For more of his etymological maps, check out this overview of his Reddit contributions.

Strange Maps #1038

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

## How to do archaeology with place names

### Mapping the frequency of common toponyms opens window on Britain's 'deep history'.

Image: Helen McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission
• 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.

### Trans-generational communication

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 strangemaps@gmail.com.

(*) Update 1/4/21: Eric Bloodaxe was not Danish; in fact, he was the second king of Norway. (many thanks to Erlend Hov for pointing out the distinction). However, Anglo-Saxon sources often didn't make that distinction, calling all northmen 'Danes'.

## What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

### Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
• 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

Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society.

Image: Arda.ir

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.

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.

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.

As mentioned in a previous article – recently reposted on the Strange Maps Facebook page 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."

### Non-European topography

If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor...

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission

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 aforementioned article).

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."

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.

### "Seen that map before"

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

In an article published on Arda.ir, 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."

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.

"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."

In Tolkien's world, 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."

### Similar shapes

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

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.

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.

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.

### Kutch as Tolfalas Island

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

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.

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 Kutch, 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.

### General knowledge

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

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.

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.

### From Frodingham to Frodo

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

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 (Scunto? We dodged a bullet there).

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."

Unless otherwise indicated, illustrations are from Mr Kamali's article on Arda.ir, reproduced with kind permission.

Strange Maps #1036

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

## Do you prefer subs or dubs? Here’s a map for that.

### Europe is divided on whether films should have subtitles or different audio tracks.

Image: MapChart, reproduced with kind permission
• 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'?

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.

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.

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 tweeted: "Netflix gives you the choice to watch The Woods dubbed or subtitled. I urge you to use subtitles, (but) you do you. Rock on."

Coben later replied to a fan (who said they were watching the subtitled version): "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."

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.

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.

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.

### Chaplin's "Easy Street" (1917) with live piano (2012)

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.

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.

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.

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.

### Dubbed in French, but with an American accent

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.

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.

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.

Subtitling became the go-to solution for most of those smaller markets: Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Balkans.

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.

### The Terminator, in German: "Ich komme wieder"

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 Gran Premio Internazionale del Doppiagio, an annual Oscars-like ceremony for excellence in dubbing.

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).

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.

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.

### Subbing and dubbing map of Europe

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

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.

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.

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.

Strange Maps #1035

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