Concept Maps and Verbs

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I'm cleaning out my instructional design papers and I ran into the "concept map" papers and remembered an interesting question about whether you should include verbs in concept maps.

First, if you don't know what a "concept map" is, I'll just say it's a diagram of concepts and how they connect. Here's a concept map from Wikipedia to define what a concept map is. Typically concepts (usually nouns) are placed in different shapes and arrows are drawn to show different types of connections. Note though that these arrows are labeled with either verbs or prepositions.

Concept map of Concept Map
Click Image to Enlarge

Now although I adore diagrams, I find concept maps surprisingly confusing. A question to LinguistList pointed out one reason why - the arrow labels are confusing (and it may not be just me). In theory, if you can add labels to boxes, you should be able to add labels to connections, but that may not be the best approach.

The truth is that our culture (and many others) use a lot of concept maps including family trees, subway maps, pie charts and many others. In almost all of them, the labels are left blank and the conventions of placement/size telegraph the relationships. Either by culture or maybe some inborn ability, I think a lot of people have learned to interpret relations just from the graphic design. (If you're not a natural map reader, I would be curious to see if labelling does any good).

For instance, in a family tree, we understand that the names on top are the ancestors and those on the bottom are the descendants. The equal sign or line between a man and a woman usually indicates marriage and lines from the equal sign to a name is a legitimate child (unless it's a dotted line, in which case things are different). Similarly names on the same level with lines going to the same equal sign are full siblings. Finally if it's a royal family, the bold face name or the one in another color is the monarch.

You can convey a lot of information with just changes in lines and special labels. In fact, you can usually make connections (e.g. determining first cousin or transfer point on a subway system) by tracking the appropriate sets of lines to the proper boxes. I would say that this convention is so powerful that adding too many labels is in fact distracting because it is interfering with the cues that the diagram structure is trying to convey.

You can call it interference on the visual vs verbal/linguistic channels if you like. In the map with the labeled arrows above, the arrows are all the same which implies "same relationship" (at least locally), but the labels are saying "no - different relationship". You really may have conflicting cues here.

So I'll present two concept maps below, my original one without the labels and one with labeled arrows. Which one is clearer to you?

Two Images - Dialects of English

Click Each Version to View Full Size Image

Concept Map, No Labels on Arrows, Different Shapes for Dialects vs Events. Description Below

Concept Map, No Labels on Arrows, Different Shapes for Dialects vs Events. Description Below

Text Version

We begin at Anglo Saxon (pre 1066) which is spoken in England and southern Scotland. In 1066, the Norman Invasion (William the Conquerer) establishes a foreign government in England, but not Scotland. Scots splits off from the rest of English (somewhat before the Great Vowel Shift. In England most dialects go through the Great Vowel Shift and lose /x/ and /ΓΌ/.

During the period when North America is colonized, many dialects in English experience loss of word final /r/, but some maintain it. Settlers from regions losing the final /r/ arrive in New England, New York City and the South, but settlers who keep the /r/ arrive in the Mid Atlantic and Canada. The MId-Atlantic form becomes Standard American/Standard Canadian while the New England and Southern forms become regional dialects. Standard U.S. continues to evolve into Californian English and other varieties (as does New England/New York/South).

After American independence, the English continue to colonize other regions in the world including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Although these dialects experience unique vowel changes, they have all lost final /r/.

Note this is just a quick summary. You should read more about the history of each dialect for details. The books Albion Seed (David Hackett Fisher) and The Story of English (Robert McCrum and Robert MacNeil) have some good information.