Jan David Braun
University of Vienna
Beginning with the history of cartography, this paper will first discuss the development of spatial thinking in different scientific contexts. It will then deal with the practice of linguistic mapping in German dialectology. As dialectology is by definition the discipline that investigates the spread of language in geographic space, it is clear that we have to consider the connection of geographic and, of course, cartographic disciplines with variety linguistics. Astonishingly, this connection is not yet an established object of research, neither for the history of science nor for the history of cartography. But the links between dialectology, cartography and geography are fundamental, going beyond their common spatial orientation and external — i.e. institutional — circumstances.
This relation is also quite obvious if we consider the various multidisciplinary projects on which linguists and geographers worked together in the 20th century, along with researchers from other, not primarily linguistic disciplines in the humanities, such as history, ethnology and archaeology. In these Gemeinschaftsarbeiten (community works), as they were later called, various thematic atlases were produced and published that showed the linkage of scientific, political, territorial and expansionist thinking in the period from the 1920s to the 1940s in German dialectology and other disciplines of the humanities. This way of thinking was not some kind of state political instruction coming from “above”: it can be detected in the disciplinary works of both dialectology and geography since the territorial losses after Word War I and the decreased self-esteem of all scientists who called themselves “German” and embraced nationalistic thought. This can also be seen in the shift of 1920s academic geographers from pure physical geography to so-called “cultural geography”, which sought to study the Volksboden (soil of the people) and Kulturboden (soil of the culture). In the resulting Volks- und Kulturbodentheorie (theory of the soil of the people and of the culture), an undeniably political notion emerged in the idea of German Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe, a notion that was motivated and justified by the apparent existence of German settlements in Eastern Europe since the time of the great migrations in the early middle ages. At this point, dialectological research, language historical research etc. came to underpin the expansion of the Third Reich into Eastern Europe.
In order to additionally provide a contemporary insight into current spatial thinking in dialectology, relatively new methodological and theoretical developments in the field will be presented: with the emergence of cognitive maps and the research of perceptual dialectology we can see partly a shift (or theoretical supplement) in the discipline from the problematic image of objective dialect areas to a rather constructivist view consisting of an understanding that attitudes and subjective perception of dialect produce the space that we want to observe and that it is by no means a representation of the “real” space.
Nevertheless, the desideratum of a theoretical and historical reflection of the common but less criticized use of dialect maps and dialect atlases still remains. Read more ›