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language and dialect, geography of

  The study of the changing distribution and social usage of language, including the ways in which language within geography is now and has in the past been used to establish and negotiate power and Identity.

It is possible to distinguish two main strands in the study of the connections between geography and language. The first embraces the geographical study of language area, has its origins in later eighteenth-century interests in the origins of language and is evident in work on the mapping of language areas and of dialects. The second involves the study of language within and as part of geography\'s explicit concerns with the politics of power and of knowledge-making (see also cultural politics; discourse). Whilst it is not helpful to see these two strands either as discrete or as chronologically distinct traditions, since some recent work on the geography of language focuses only on the mapping of language areas (Brice, 1996), work in the second sense represents a significant departure from the mapping of language areas and has close connections with more recent interest in representation and authority within postmodern human geography (see also culture; postmodernism).

The beginnings of interest in the geographical study of languages are evident in eighteenth-century European debates about the origins of language, the connections between language and national identity (see nation-state), and in discussions about language and social differentiation. In the nineteenth century, several projects mapped the principal European languages in association with ethnic group, projects that were central to the development of anthropogeography and which provided the impetus to later interest in the mapping of language areas or language groups, either as expressions of culture or culture area or as part of political geography, or, indeed, as part of an understanding of place names as sources for understanding the linguistic history of a given settlement or region. There has been a continuing tradition of language mapping in these ways within western European and North American geography. In Britain, for example, work has been done on the changing geographical extent of the Celtic languages (Withers, 1984). In Canada, the tradition of mapping \'native\' languages, notably on the west coast, has considerable contemporary political significance, whilst in the United States, language mapping has concentrated on English and German (Moseley and Asher, 1993).

A related aspect of this concern for the geographic area of certain languages or language forms is dialect geography, often termed linguistic geography, with its attention to local differentiations within speech areas and the changing geography of particular linguistic forms. Much linguistic geography has been geographical only in the sense that it has been concerned with the spatial distribution of linguistic phenomena, and in Britain and in the United States, most work within this subfield has focused upon internal variation in the geography of English-speaking peoples (Zelinsky and Williams, 1988). It is also possible to identify work in what has from the early 1980s become known as geolinguistics where attention has concentrated on the geography of languages as part of the political identity of linguistic minorities and on the politics of language use both within established nation-states and as part of claims to an emergent nationalism (Breton, 1993).

It is likewise possible to discern a strong concern for language as a means to cultural identity in that work which has examined the connections between language, social power and the practice of geography. For Jackson (1989), \'Language is a structure of signification that is reproduced in social practice. Like other practices, however, it does not exist outside social relations of power… There is, in other words, a politics of language\' (original emphasis: see also cultural politics). He has further noted that \'a revitalised cultural geography must go beyond the mapping of languages and the geography of dialect, towards the study of language itself as the medium through which intersubjective meaning is communicated\'.

This recognition within geography of language as a means to social power parallels that wider interest in the \'linguistic turn\' in twentieth-century philosophy and its focus on the study of language and the study of thought and, thus, upon the constitution of different realities and ontological theories through language (Carruthers, 1996; Devitt and Sterelny, 1989). Geography\'s attention to language, reality and power is shared in work on the social history of different forms of language as a means to political power: the authority of one language over another, the power of written languages over oral cultures and the supposed objectivity of the language of scientific discourse (Leith, 1997). Such matters are related, too, to a more widespread interest in the evolution of language as a complex and specialized \'instinct\' essential in comprehending and interpreting for others the worlds we live in (Pinker, 1995).

The idea of a politics of language has some connections with that research in geolinguistics which has considered language the basis to political struggle (see also nationalism; political geography), but it has several other rather richer connotations. Language is clearly important in the constitution and negotiation of local meaning. Pred\'s examination of conflicts of meaning articulated in different language usage in nineteenth-century Stockholm (Pred 1990a) and in other studies (1990b), emphasizes the potential for further study of the locally spoken word. Others have seen geography\'s \'linguistic turn\' as signalling a new beginning for geography\'s place as a critical social science. Curry (1991), for example, claims that \'the use of language in post-modern works appears to express a radically new view of the nature of the social sciences and of the place of the social scientist in society\'. Certainly, others have paid attention to language as intrinsic to the conduct and practice of geography, and, indeed, to the indissoluble connections between authoritative language, the form of knowledge and authorial power (Barnes and Duncan, 1992; Cosgrove and Domosh, 1993). It is clear that there are different languages and voices to be heard (or not) as both an objective and a practice in geography, particularly in relation to questions of ethnomethodology, and, since all language is spoken from somewhere, it is intimately connected with the idea of situated knowledge and with what Bourdieu has termed the linguistic habitus (Bourdieu, 1990; Crang, 1992).

A key text in recent years was one by Gunnar Olsson (1992). On one level, this is a work of what might be termed linguistic geometry, a work concerned to assess what he has called a cartography of thought insofar as Olsson\'s distinctive contribution to geography has been marked by his refusal to limit himself \'to the study of visible things\'. On another level, it is concerned with \'questioning the the relations we are talking in\' rather than considering the object of \'what we are talking about\' (Olsson, 1992). Olsson is positing a new linguistic grounding for writing (and thinking) about thought-and-action (in ways which have intriguing connections with the Foucauldian investigation of power and knowledge): the limits of our understanding of our world may indeed be the limits of our language (see also Doel, 1993; Farinelli et al., 1996). Others have also examined the ways in which language is employed within geography to appeal to different audiences and to warrant the \'truth\' of what is being claimed (Smith, 1996), and discussed the ways in which deep-seated gender biases in language may permeate the epistemological structures as well as the substantive content of dominant forms of knowledge (Bondi, 1997). In these ways, as Pred noted, \'a vast terrain of enquiry lies open\' for continuing research on geography and language. (CWJW)

References Barnes, T.A. and Duncan, J.S., 1992: Introduction: writing worlds. In T.A. Barnes and J.S. Duncan, eds, Writing worlds: discourse, text and metaphor in the representation of landscape. London and New York: Routledge, 1-17. Bondi, L. 1997: In whose words?: on gender identities, knowledge and writing practices. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 22: 245-58. Bourdieu, P. 1990: In other words: essays towards a reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press; Breton, R.J.-L. 1993: Geolinguistics: language dynamics and ethnolinguistic geography. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. Brice, W.C. 1996: The geography of language. In I. Douglas, R. Huggett and M. Robinson, eds, Companion encyclopedia of geography: the environment and humankind. London and New York: Routledge, 107-19. Carruthers, P. 1996: Language thought and consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cosgrove, D.E. and Domosh, M. 1993: Author and authority: writing the new cultural geography. In J. Duncan and D. Ley, eds, Place/culture/representation. London and New York: Routledge, 25-38. Crang, P. 1992: The politics of polyphony: reconfigurations in geographical authority. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10: 527-50. Curry, M.R. 1991: Postmodernism, language and the strains of modernism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 81: 210-28. Devitt, M. and Sterelny, K. 1989: Language and reality: an introduction to the philosophy of language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Doel, M.A. 1993: Proverbs for paranoids: writing geography on hollowed ground. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 18: 377-94. Farinelli, F., Olsson, G. and Reichert, D., eds, 1996: Limits of representation. Bologna: Accedo. Jackson, P. 1989: Maps of meaning: an introduction to cultural geography. London: Unwin Hyman. Leith, R. 1997: A social history of language. London and New York: Routledge. Moseley, C. and Asher, R.E., eds, 1993: Atlas of the world\'s languages. London and New York: Routledge. Olsson, G. 1980: Birds in egg/eggs in bird. London: Pion. Olsson, G. 1992: Lines of power/ limits of language. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Pinker, S. 1995: The language instinct. London: Penguin. Pred, A. 1990a: Lost words and lost worlds: modernity and the language of everyday life in late nineteenth-century Stockholm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pred, A. 1990b: In other wor(l)ds: fragmented and integrated observations on gendered languages, gendered spaces and local transformation. Antipode 22: 33-52. Smith, J. 1996: Geographical rhetoric: modes and tropes of appeal. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86: 1-20. Withers, C.W.J. 1984: Gaelic in Scotland 1698-1981: the geographical history of a language. Edinburgh: John Donald. Zelinsky, W. and Williams, C.H. 1988: The mapping of language in North America and the British Isles. Progress in Human Geography 12: 337-68.

Suggested Reading Barnes, T.A. and Duncan, J.S. eds, 1992: Writing worlds: discourse, text and metaphor in the representation of landscape. London and New York: Routledge. Breton, R.J.-L. 1993: Geolinguistics: language dynamics and ethnolinguistic geography. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. Jackson, P. 1989: Maps of meaning: an introduction to cultural geography. London: Unwin Hyman. Olsson, G. 1992: Lines of power/limits of language. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.



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