I read into Yuri Engelhardt’s dissertation “The Language of Graphics”, and I think it is a fantastic piece of work. As the title suggests, the thesis suggests a linguistically motivated approach to the analysis of graphics: based from a syntactical analysis of space, objects and their relations, Engelhardt classifies and exemplifies different types of syntactic structures in which graphical objects can be arranged in order to convey meaning. A great achievement is the comparison and “translation” of numerous, discipline specific approaches in this area, ranging from Tufte, Bertin, Card, over MacEachren to even Lakoff. Besides, I especially enjoyed his discussion of syntactic roles: Analogously to the different syntactic roles verbs can have in a sentence, the same visual elements can trigger different semantics or have different degrees of freedom according to their syntatic role in a graphical representation. Good examples are map markers, labels, containers, separators etc. Again, this part is analytically really strong and I believe also quite novel in this form. The thesis closes with a discussion of interpretation and semantics, and a resulting classification of graphic representations. But I haven’t gotten this far yet.
Again, I find it a great work, and it reminds me a lot of my Cognitive Science days :)
Here are some pictures from the thesis to give you an impression: