Language geography

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A map of the language divisions within Justinian I's Byzantine Empire.
  Greek and native
  Latin and native

Language geography is the branch of human geography that studies the geographic distribution of language(s) or its constituent elements. There are two principal fields of study within the geography of language:

  1. 'geography of languages', which deals with the distribution through history and space of languages,[1] and/or is concerned with 'the analysis of the distribution patterns and spatial structures of languages in contact'.[2]
  2. 'geolinguistics' being the study of the 'political, economic and cultural processes that affect the status and distribution of languages[3] or in other words 'the study of languages and dialects in contact and in conflict with various societal, economic, ideological, political and other contemporary trends with regard to a particular geographic location and on a planetary scale'.[4]
  3. Various other terms and subdisciplines have been suggested, but none gained much currency.[5] including
    • "linguistic geography",[6] which deals with regional linguistic variations within languages,[7][8][9][10][5] also called 'dialect geography' which is only a subdivision and a relatively small one at that of geolinguistics[3]
    • a division within the examination of linguistic geography separating the studies of change over time and space;[11]

Linguistic geography can also refer to studies of how people talk about the landscape. For example, toponymy is the study of place names.[12] Landscape ethnoecology, also known as ethnophysiography, is the study of landscape ontologies and how they are expressed in language.[13]

Many studies have researched the effect of 'language contact',[14] as the languages or dialects (varieties) of peoples have interacted.[5] This territorial expansion of language groups has usually resulted in the overlaying of languages upon existing speech areas, rather than the replacement of one language by another. An example could be sought in the Norman Conquest of England: Old French became the language of the aristocracy but Middle English remained the language of the majority of the population.[15]

Linguistic geography[edit]

Linguistic geography, as a field, is dominated by linguists rather than geographers.[9] Charles W. J. Withers describes the difference as resulting from a focus on "elements of language, and only then with their geographical or social variation, as opposed to investigation of the processes making for change in the extent of language areas."[5] Peter Trudgill says, "linguistic geography has been geographical only in the sense that it has been concerned with the spatial distribution of linguistic phenomena."[10] Greater emphasis has been laid upon explanation rather than mere description of the patterns of linguistic change.[9][5] That move has paralleled similar concerns in geography and language studies.[16] Some studies have paid attention to the social use of language and to variations in dialect within languages in regard to social class or occupation.[17] Regarding such variations, lexicographer Robert Burchfield notes that their nature "is a matter of perpetual discussion and disagreement" and notes that "most professional linguistic scholars regard it as axiomatic that all varieties of English have a sufficiently large vocabulary for the expression of all the distinctions that are important in the society using it." He contrasts this with the view of the historian John Vincent, who regards such a view as

"a nasty little orthodoxy among the educational and linguistic establishment. However badly you need standard English, you will have the merits of non-standard English waved at you. The more extravagantly your disadvantages will be lauded as 'entirely adequate for the needs of their speakers', to cite the author of Sociolinguistics. It may sound like a radical cry to support pidgin, patois, or dialect, but translated into social terms, it looks more like a ploy to keep Them (whoever Them may be) out of the middle-class suburbs."

— John Vincent, The Times[18]

Burchfield concludes, "Resolution of such opposite views is not possible.... future of dialect studies and the study of class-marked distinctions are likely to be of considerable interest to everyone."[19]

In England, linguistic geography has traditionally focussed upon rural English,rather than urban English.[20] A common production of linguistic investigators of dialects is the shaded and dotted map showing to show where one linguistic feature ends and another begins or overlaps. Various compilations of these maps for England have been issued over the years, including Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary (1896–1905), the Survey of English Dialects (1962-8), and The Linguistic Atlas of England (1978).[21]

Geolinguistic societies[edit]

The oldest and best known geolinguistic societies are "Amici Linguarum" (language friends) and the American Society of Geolinguistics.

The "Amici Linguarum" was founded in Sweden in 1965 by a Swedish polyglot, Erik V. Gunnemark, with the aim to propagate interest in languages, linguistics, and traditional European culture[22] through a network of polyglots and people sharing deep interest in foreign languages. After E. Gunnemark's death in 2007, the Association fell apart, the activities of the revived Association (2010) extend to editing a journal (Chasok/The Hour/La Horita/L'heure) and organising linguistic meetings as well as free 'linguocultural' courses.

The American Society of Geolinguistics (ASG) was founded in 1965 by Prof. Mario A. Pei of Columbia University. Its aims are, in the words of the late prof. Mario Pei "to gather and disseminate up-to-date knowledge concerning the world's present-day languages, their distribution and population use, their relative practical importance, usefulness and availability from the economic, political and cultural standpoints, their genetic, historical and geographical affiliations and relationships, their identification and use in spoken and written form". The Society is particularly interested in linguistic geography, languages in contact and conflict, language planning and policy, language education and the broader aspects of sociolinguistics ''macro-sociolinguistics"[23]

The ASG published in 1991 The Geolinguistic Handbook and also an annual journal Geolinguistics. The ASG also organised an annual international conference not only on language geography but all aspects of language in contact in the modern world with attention to language acquisition, language teaching, change and impact upon culture and commerce, economics, politics, social dynamics in general. ASG's international conference draws participants from the US, Europe, Asia, Australia, etc., and the keynote speakers have been among the leaders in the field of linguistics in connection with modern society.

Geolinguistics is interdisciplinary and is linked to various linguistic branches as well as goes beyond linguistics to connect to sociology, anthropology, ethnology, history, demographyn political science, studies of cognition and communication, etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Delgado de Carvalho, C.M. (1962). The geography of languages. In Wagner, P.L.; Mikesell, M.W. Readings in cultural geography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 75-93.
  2. ^ Williams, C.H. (1980). Language contact and language change in Wales, 1901-1971: a study in historical geolinguistics. Welsh History Review 10, 207-238.
  3. ^ a b Gunnemark, Erik (1991). "What is geolinguistics ?". Geolinguistics, journal of the American Society of geolinguistics. American Society of Geolinguistics. 17: 12. ISSN 0190-4671. 
  4. ^ "International Conference on multilingual perspectives in geolinguistics, April 11, 2015". 
  5. ^ a b c d e Withers, Charles W.J. [1981] (1993). Johnson, R.J. The Dictionary of Human Geography, Gregory, Derek; Smith, David M., Second edition, Oxford: Blackwell, 252-3.
  6. ^ Dell'Aquila, V. (1997). Mapping the languages of Europe in Herberts K., Laurén C., Laurén U, Strömann S. (Eds.): "Flerspråkighetens dimensioner. Individ, familj och samhälle", Vaasan Yliopiston Julkaisuja: Vaasa/Vasa, 103-131.
  7. ^ Pei, M. (1966). Glossary of linguistic terminology. New York: John Wiley.
  8. ^ Trudgill, P. (1974). Linguistic change and diffusion: description and explanation in sociolinguistic dialect geography. Language in Society 3:2, 215-46.
  9. ^ a b c Trudgill, P. (1983). On dialect: social and geographical perspectives. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; New York: New York University Press.
  10. ^ a b Trudgill, P. (1975). Linguistic geography and geographical linguistics. Progress in Geography 7, 227-52
  11. ^ Iordan, I.; Orr, J. (1970). An introduction to romance linguistics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; Berkeley: University of California Press.
  12. ^ Kadmon, Naftali (2000). Toponymy : the lore, laws, and language of geographical names (1st ed.). New York: Vantage Press. ISBN 0533135311. 
  13. ^ Johnson, Leslie Main; Hunn, Eugene S., eds. (2012). Landscape Ethnoecology: Concepts of Biotic and Physical Space. New York: Berghahn Books. 
  14. ^ Weinrich, U. (1974). Languages in contact. The Hague: Mouton.
  15. ^ Burchfield, Robert [1985] (2003). The English Language, New York: Oxford University Press, 14.
  16. ^ Withers, C.W.J. (1984). Gaelic in Scotland 1698-1981: the geographical history of a language. Edinburgh: John Donald; Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.
  17. ^ Giglioli, P.P. (1972). Language and social context. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  18. ^ The Times, 23 February 1983, p. 12
  19. ^ Burchfield, Robert [1985] (2003). The English Language, New York: Oxford University Press, 128-130.
  20. ^ In 1985, one could still say, "We still know far more about the distribution of byre/shippon/mistall/cow-stable/cow-house/cow-shed/neat-house/beast-house for 'cow-shed' than we do about urban synonyms for pedestrian crossings, lollipop men, machines used to wash cars, forecourts of petrol stations, bollards, sleeping policemen, pay-out desks, supermarket trolleys, traffic wardens, telephone booths and hundreds of other items found in every city in the United Kingdom." Burchfield, Robert [1985] (2003). The English Language, New York: Oxford University Press, 128.
  21. ^ Burchfield, Robert [1985] (2003). The English Language, New York: Oxford University Press, 125.
  22. ^ Larsson, Magnus. "Amici Linguarum – Dead Association Alive Once More" (PDF). 
  23. ^ "Aims and objectives of the American Society of Geolinguistics". Retrieved 5th February 2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External links[edit]