Language geography

Language geography

Language geography is the branch of human geography that studies the geographic distribution of language or its constituent elements. There are two principal fields of study within the geography of language: the "geography of languages", which deals with the distribution through history and space of languages, [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.] and "linguistic geography", which deals with regional linguistic variations within languages. [Pei, M. (1966). "Glossary of linguistic terminology." New York: John Wiley.] [Trudgill, P. (1974). "Linguistic change and diffusion: description and explanation in sociolinguistic dialect geography." Language in Society 3:2, 215-46.] Trudgill, P. (1983). "On dialect: social and geographical perspectives." Oxford: Basil Blackwell; New York: New York University Press.] Trudgill, P. (1975). "Linguistic geography and geographical linguistics." Progress in Geography 7, 227-52] 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.] Various other terms and subdisciplines have been suggested, including; a division within the examination of linguistic geography separating the studies of change over time and space; [Iordan, I.; Orr, J. (1970). "An introduction to romance linguistics." Oxford: Basil Blackwell; Berkeley: University of California Press.] 'geolinguistics', a study within the geography of language concerned with 'the analysis of the distribution patterns and spatial structures of languages in contact', [Williams, C.H. (1980). "Language contact and language change in Wales, 1901-1971: a study in historical geolinguistics." Welsh History Review 10, 207-238.] but none have gained much currency.

Many studies have researched the effect of 'language contact', [Weinrich, U. (1974). "Languages in contact." The Hague: Mouton. ] as the languages or dialects of peoples have interacted. 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, where Old French became the language of the aristocracy, and Middle English remained the language of the majority of the population. [Burchfield, Robert [1985] (2003). "The English Language", New York: Oxford University Press, 14.]

Linguistic geography, as a field, is dominated by linguists rather than geographers. Charles 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." To quote Trudgill, "linguistic geography has been geographical only in the sense that it has been concerned with the spatial distribution of linguistic phenomena." In recent timeswhen greater emphasis has been laid upon explanation rather than description of the patterns of linguistic change. The move has paralleled similar concerns in geography and language studies. [Withers, C.W.J. (1984). "Gaelic in Scotland 1698-1981: the geographical history of a language." Edinburgh: John Donald; Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.] These studies have paid attention to the social use of language, and to variations in dialect within languages in regard to social class or occupation. [Giglioli, P.P. (1972). "Language and social context." Harmondsworth: Penguin.] Regarding such variations, lexicographer Robert Burchfield notes that their nature "is a matter of perpetual discussion and disagreement". As an example, he 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 Professor John Vincent, who regards such a view as

Burchfield concludes that "Resolution of such opposite views is not possible", though the "future of dialect studies and the study of class-marked distinctions are likely to be of considerable interest to everyone". [Burchfield, Robert [1985] (2003). "The English Language", New York: Oxford University Press, 128-130.]

In England, linguistic geography has traditionally focussed upon rural English, rather than urban English. [In 1985, one could still say that "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.] A common production of linguistic invesigators of dialects is the shaded and dotted map showing 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). [Burchfield, Robert [1985] (2003). "The English Language", New York: Oxford University Press, 125.]


ee also

* Linguistic map

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