Welcome to the Culturally Authentic Pictorial Lexicon, CAPL, the source for authentic images for language learning. As a language teacher and learner, I always seek to connect language, culture, and meaning. This site represents my interest to not only write about language learning, but provide concrete examples.

Our world rich in diversity, both linguistic and visual, and often the connection between word and image can be lost. As commercial globalization brings the world together through 'common products', we sometimes forget how our visual perception of the world affects our use of words and the meanings they convey.

Is a house really a Haus, is pain really хлеб, and when we see red cabbage, is it really red? These are simple and mundane questions that underscore the fact that visual perception is culturally determined and visual cognition varies from culture to culture.

The CAPL project seeks to explore this idea through a collection of authentic photographs arranged by language and context. In the coming year, we will add more photos, more databases, and more textual descriptions. Check back often as we expand our collection.

It is our hope that the collection itself can spur research in a variety of areas and that the collection can be used by language teachers and learners throughout the world with its generous Creative Commons license.

-  Michael R. Shaughnessy, Ph.D.

The Culturally Authentic Pictorial Lexicon (CAPL) was conceived in 2003 by Michael Shaughnessy and Jason Parkhill at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA. The initial pilot project created a dictionary database of over 1,000 unique entries for the German language through a grant from W&J College.

In 2008, CAPL started expansion of its offerings. The contents of subsequent CAPL databases were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and does not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

Dr. Michael Shaughnessy was recognized for his work with CAPL and foreign languages education as the recipient of the 2011 ACTFL/Cengage Learning Faculty Development Award for Excellence in Foreign Language Instruction Using Technology with IALLT.

CAPL in the classroom

Our usage policy is simple:

The pictures in this database may be viewed, downloaded, linked, manipulated, copied, displayed, and redistributed free of charge for educational, non-commercial purposes as specified by the following Creative Commons License Creative Commons license. Please cite capl@washjeff.edu as the source.

Principles of CAPL

Several principles are behind the creation and growth of CAPL. These principles make CAPL unique and more applicable in language acquisition than other visual dictionaries.

Authenticity: The pictures in CAPL are authentic primary sources, taken within the language specific context they are found. The pictures are neither staged nor manipulated to suit.

Language Specific Source Dictionary: CAPL is unique to other picture collections because the pictures are not merely "street scenes." Each picture represents a dictionary entry. This entry must originate in the source language. The translation is secondary to the source and sometimes may not officially exist according to standard orthographic authorities.

Objective Depiction: The object depicted must be easily understood without a caption. In doing this, mostly nouns will constitute this database. The subjectivity of a visual representation for adjectives such as "beautiful" creates linguistic, political, racial, economic, philosophical, etc. : problems that the creators of CAPL would like to avoid. Also, no derogatory nouns will be depicted in CAPL.

No absolute representative visual depiction possible: We do not argue that there can be one picture of a German “Markt” that totally encompasses the platonic ideal of German "Market-ness" Nevertheless, if one picture in one context can assist in understanding of what a German market is, then it should be included. If a different picture in a different context adds to another understanding, we are interested in adding it.

For the construction and expansion of CAPL, the following principles apply:

Representative Samples: A minimum representative sample is necessary for the inclusion of a category. Orphan words might not be added to the database.

Context is crucial: New additions should be provided with a context. For example, a picture of a ticket machine for busses should be a ticket machine within a bus. This allows for cultural comparison that may appear at a later date.

Monitored expansion: Expansion is important, especially to include regional cultural items, out of the way places or unique cultural entries that may not be in the database. CAPL gladly adds pictures that are not represented, but all submissions undergo an editorial process. We are not interested in thirty depictions of one item / place unless warranted.


Project Administration

CAPL Project Director
Michael Shaughnessy, Ph.D.
Washington & Jefferson College
60 South Lincoln St.
Washington, PA 15301

Technical Developer, Programming
Jason M. Pergola, W&J College

Technical Developer, Programming
Bradley Kita

Technical Developer, Programming
Christopher Wright, W&J College

Website Design
Gigi Wiltanger, W&J College

Technical Advisor
Charles Hannon, Ph.D.

Many thanks go out to Mr. Jason Parkhill, one of the initial designers of the project. Without him, this project would not exist. Thanks, Jason!

Image Totals for Currently Available Languages

  • German currently contains 2544 active images. RSS Feed
  • ESL (North America) currently contains 1978 active images. RSS Feed
  • French (France) currently contains 1310 active images. RSS Feed
  • Chinese (Mandarin) currently contains 2604 active images. RSS Feed
  • Japanese currently contains 106 active images. RSS Feed
  • Arabic currently contains 287 active images. RSS Feed
  • Spanish (Southern Cone) currently contains 1022 active images. RSS Feed
  • Russian currently contains 1638 active images. RSS Feed
  • Italian currently contains 46 active images. RSS Feed
  • Spanish (Mexico) currently contains 981 active images. RSS Feed
  • Spanish (Central America & Caribbean) currently contains 869 active images. RSS Feed
  • Spanish (Peninsular) currently contains 759 active images. RSS Feed
  • ESL (Great Britain) currently contains 617 active images. RSS Feed
  • Ukrainian currently contains 139 active images. RSS Feed
  • Special Collections currently contains 153 active images. RSS Feed
  • French (Canada) currently contains 110 active images. RSS Feed
  • Arabic (Oman) currently contains 11 active images. RSS Feed

Language Collection Editors and Contributors


Photo Contributor
John Nowak

Contact if you are interested in editing: capl@washjeff.edu


Editor in Chief
Mei-Yu Yang
Photo Contributors
Simon Setcavage
Brad Kita

ESL (Great Britain)

In Development:
Contact if you are interested in contributing or editing: capl@washjeff.edu

ESL (North America)

Editor in Chief
Michael Shaughnessy, Ph.D., Washington & Jefferson College
Associate Editor and CAPL Project Assistant
Lauren Novak


Editor in Chief
Katrine Pflanze, Ph.D., Washington & Jefferson College


Editor in Chief
Michael Shaughnessy, Ph.D., Washington & Jefferson College
60 South Lincoln Street
Washington, PA 15301
(724) 223-6170
Associate Editor
Nikhil Sathe, Ph.D., Ohio University


Editors in Chief
Jeff Ruth, Ph.D.
Sara Villa, Ph.D.
Photo Contributor
Jason M. Pergola


Editor in Chief
Christopher Tebbe

Thanks to the following significant contributors: Leslie Huddart

Portuguese (Brazil)

Photo Contributor
Matt North

Portuguese (Portugal)

In Development:
Contact if you are interested in contributing or editing: capl@washjeff.edu


Editor in Chief
Susan Vdovichenko, Ph.D.

Spanish (Andean)

In Development:
Contact if you are interested in contributing or editing: capl@washjeff.edu

Spanish (Central America & Caribbean)

Editor in Chief
Maribel Manzari
Photo Contributors
HJ Manzari
Erin Lowry

Spanish (Mexico)

Editor in Chief
Maribel Manzari, Washington & Jefferson College
Photo Contributor
Maria Contreras
Dr. HJ Manzari

Spanish (Peninsular)

Editor in Chief
Dr. Christy P. Shaughnessy, Washington & Jefferson College

Spanish (Southern Cone)

Editor in Chief
Dr. Christy P. Shaughnessy, Washington & Jefferson College


Editor in Chief
Marina Lysun
Photo Contributor
Megan Thornburg

Special Collections:

Edited by Dr. Michael R. Shaughnessy, Special Collections represent historical images that can be used in educational settings. They may be re-distributed with credit (capl@washjeff.edu) free of charge for non-commercial purposes.

German Speaking World

-1906 True Color Photos scanned from old prints. Institute for Color Photography, Carl Weller, Berlin. Verlagsanstalt fuer Farbenfotographie, 1906. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/
-1895 Figural Compositions by Ferdinand Wüst. Vienna.

Citation Guideline

You are welcome to cite this project in research work. Consult your particular style sheet and include the following information:

Shaughnessy, Michael, ed. CAPL: The Culturally Authentic Pictorial Lexicon. Retrieved (current date). http://capl.washjeff.edu/(additional file location information here if needed)

Multilingual Licensing Information for CAPL

Afrikaans български Català Dansk Deutsch Ελληνικά English English (CA) English (GB) English (US) Esperanto Castellano Castellano (AR) Español (CL) Spanish (CO) Castellano (MX) Castellano (PE) Euskara Suomeksi français français (CA) Galego עברית hrvatski Magyar Italiano 日本語 한국어 Macedonian Melayu Nederlands Sesotho sa Leboa polski Português slovenski jezik српски srpski (latinica) Sotho svenska 简体中文 華語 (台灣) isiZulu

This site is maintained by Washington & Jefferson College © 2021
Creative Commons License
All images found on this site are licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 US License.  If you use images from this site, please cite capl@washjeff.edu as your source.
Geocoding Courtesy of MapQuest
Map Data © Open Street Map and Contributors.  See www.openstreetmap.org/copyright.
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