Mapping Language: linguistic cartography as a topic for the history of science

Jan David Braun
University of Vienna

Karte des deutschen Reiches

Map of Deutscher Volks- und Kulturboden, by Albrecht Penck (design) and Arnold Hillen Ziegfeld (cartographer; Penck 1925: 73).


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.

1. History of Cartography, Linguistic Cartography and the Nation State

The history of cartography today focuses on the question of maps as instruments for territorial, imperial and expansionist claims or for the stabilization of the hegemonial position of the nation state since its emergence in the 19th century. As the history of cartography has developed in the past fifty years as an independent discipline (see Buisseret 2010: 223), so has the awareness “that cartography as a primary human activity may be found in virtually every human society […]” (Buisseret 2010: 223). This human activity was indeed perpetuated by imperialism, as is well explained in the book edited by James R. Akerman (2009) The Imperial Map: Cartography and the Mastery of Empire, which gives an overview of cartographic practice from the late 17th to the early 20th century. In this work the crucial point of inquiry lies in “imperial mapping”: in the context of imperialism, maps are not only produced as aids to navigation and orientation,[1] but also as a means of gaining power over the spaces staked out on the map. This claim to power also extends to everything which is situated in these spaces: people, (economic) resources and living space.[2]

But the relatively recent construction of the nation state seems in particular to fit well with the instrument of cartographic mapping. In his paper “Putting the State on The Map: Cartography, Territory and European State Formation”, the historian Michael Biggs makes it clear that the term “territory” is linked to the modern state in an epistemological way. Biggs (1999: 375) says that “[t]he state, after all, is a spatial form […].” In reference to a socioeconomic analysis of British state-owned economic developments across the centuries by the sociologist Michael Mann, Biggs says that the main property of the modern nation state has to be a centralized, unitary place, as opposed to the situation in feudal kingdoms.[3] Biggs also makes it clear that modern cartographic practice with the technique of scaling was essential for the production of spatial knowledge which differed from other spatial concepts, such as medieval space conceptions, which were mainly mapless (cf. Biggs 1999: 376):

The formation of the modern state depicted on the map was constituted in part through cartography as a store of knowledge reflecting surveys that rulers sponsored to penetrate the ground over which they ruled; as a spatial form modeled on the map’s linear boundary and homogeneous space; and, in the imagination, as political authority symbolized by territory and the earth’s surface comprehended as a composite of states.
(Biggs 1999: 374)

This epistemological basis of the nation state — the territory as captured by cartography — is also necessary to understand the development of language and dialect cartography. When the librarian Georg Wenker (1852-1911) began his first research in Marburg, Germany, for the Atlas of the German Empire, the empire itself was only five years old (founded in 1871). The goal of his atlas was to assert that the areas covered were not merely a geographical region but that they were united by the German language: the atlas should show the language of the young German empire as a “monument” of the German people. The national focus of this work was not Wenker’s own idea: Wenker was instructed by the new government in Berlin to not only map places where German was spoken (which would have led his research in another direction), but to map every single language and dialect inside the borders of the newly established empire (cf. Auer 2004: 151). As the linguist Peter Auer (2004) points out in his paper “Sprache, Grenze, Raum”, both dialectology and the concept of nation state can be seen as an increase in spatial thinking in terms of territories and borders.[4] German dialectology (in the same way as nationalism) has since its beginning been, as Auer claims, very interested in demarcations and borders, although the spatial concepts themselves were never theoretically elaborated but remained rather naïve (cf. Auer 2004: 151).[5]


A map of the participle gebracht around Karlsruhe in Georg Wenker’s Sprachatlas. Source

But the final decades of the 20th century and the 21th century are characterized by an increase in theoretical reflection and a shift in focus in dialectological research: the object of inquiry is no longer the objective area of German dialects, but subjective attitudes concerning dialect and images of dialects (see Krause et al. 2003). Since we are now dealing with questions of prestige and stigma, contemporary dialectology has a much greater sociolinguistic character (see Anders et al. 2010; Purschke 2011) and has left the realm of traditional dialectology, which at times employed sociolinguistic approaches, but was not a social science from the beginning. A new dimension was added through the transfer of methods from psychology, the drawing of cognitive/mental maps, known as “mapping”. Under this approach, linguistically untrained observers are instructed to draw a dialect area or to draw specific areas on an existing map. In these “ethnodialectological practices”, as they are sometimes called,[6] Auer (2004) sees the possibility of realizing that space is a mental construct which governs our perception of reality but is not a simple fact. We must also think about this when we consider language itself: “Nicht die Struktur des Raums schafft sprachliche Unterschiede, sondern unsere dialektalen kognitiven Landkarten sind Ordnungsstrategien, mit denen wir das ‘Chaos’ der Heteroglossie bewältigen” (Auer 2004: 160).

Therefore, such hand drawn maps are used in perceptual psychology, social science and linguistics. In every discipline it is more or less important to observe mental representations and how spatiality is imagined (Kitazawa 1999: 300).

Although there is undoubtedly a shift from objective dialect areas to subjective (language) attitudes, the concept of dialect borders, so-called “isoglosses”, a typical topic of dialectological research from Wenker up to the present day, is not generally considered to be a concept with its origins in 19th century nationalism. But isoglosses are epistemologically connected with territorial and expansionist thinking and nationalist imagery of space, language, language in space, and the representation of disciplinary knowledge and its concepts in dialect maps with basic territorial maps.[7] In putting language on the map, we create the cartographic and political entities of borders and territories and impose specific epistemological descisions and our conception of language and language varieties. Auer clearly states how the scientific socialization of dialectologists is shaped through this thinking in terms of borders and territories and that

[…] jedem Studienanfänger in der Germanistik [die] vertraute Karte der deutschen Dialekte, aufgebaut [ist] wie geopolitische Karten nach dem Sieg der nationalstaatlichen Idee: Die Sprachkarten zerschneiden den deutschen Sprachraum exhaustiv in Dialektregionen, die intern nicht mehr weiter differenziert werden; gerade so wie zum Beispiel eine politische Europakarte die Staaten eindeutig gegeneinander abgrenzt.
(Auer 2004: 152)

Using the term “geopolitical”, Auer highlights a crucial point in the history of German and Austrian dialectological research: the connection of dialectology to not only geographical but indeed geopolitical thought, geopolitically motivated collective works and multidisciplinary institutions from the 1920s to the 1940s and beyond. Auer, in transcending the naïve idea of objective dialect spaces and simple spatial conceptions clearly understands the suggestive power of mapping languages (or using maps in general) and opens the field to a specific and controversial object of inquiry which was never explored before: the (potential) contiguity of linguistic mapping with so-called “suggestive cartography” (see section 3).

From this point on, the starting point of German philology was the philology of a nation — all the subsequent debates and conflicts in linguistics often depended on the affirmation or rejection of nationalist thought and implications. This can be seen in the early beginnings of dialectological and dialect cartographical research in Austria and Germany, in the different linguistic regional atlases, in different disciplinary and multidisciplinary projects during the period of National Socialism (see section 3), in the history of language, in the so-called Sprachinselforschung (language island research),[8] but also later in the paradigm of pluricentricity,[9] in the debate about multilingualism in Central Europe and so on (see Franceschini 2011).[10]

In addition, the power of socio-political discourses of Europe in general and Central Europe in particular since the founding of nation states after World War I were — and still are — aspects that we should not neglect. Friedrich Naumanns Mitteleuropa, published during World War I in 1915, influenced the idea of a league of states under German control, both military and economically and had its focus on Germany and the Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Nauman says:

[d]as, wovon ich reden will, ist das Zusammenwachsen derjenigen Staaten, die weder zum englisch-französischen Westbunde gehören noch zum russischen Reiche, vor allem aber ist es der Zusammenschluss des Deutschen Reiches mit der österreichisch-ungarischen Doppelmonarchie, denn alle weiteren Pläne über mitteleuropäische Völkerverbindungen hängen davon ab, ob es gelingt, zuerst die zwei Zentralstaaten selber zusammenzufassen.
(Naumann 1916: 1)[11]

The discourses of nationality and Volkstum are undeniably connected to the question of which language is spoken in the marked areas. It seems astonishing that the basic observation that maps are not just simple tools for representing a territory or, in the case of thematic cartography, of representing other scientific aspects within these spaces (ethnicity, language and so on), but that they also have a very specific way of conceiving of the features shown seems to have been underestimated in the linguistic discipline that revolved around drawing maps. In addition, maps in themselves constitute an independent semiotic system, perhaps even an independent language (see e.g. Du 2003),[12] an epistemic fact that was also often underestimated in linguistic theory, method and practice.

To return to the quotation of Biggs, we have to mention that the so-called homogenous space of the nation state was often conceptualized with the idea of a centralized space which rules or determines the territory. Coming to the 20th century, we can see different ideas occurring with the same underlying thought: space as an entity linked to the Volk (people) which culminated in the National Socialist formula of Blut und Boden (Blood and soil) or the so-called Zentrale-Orte-Theorie (Central-Space-Theory) of Walter Christaller (1893-1969), a term which gained massive popularity in National Socialist geopolitics and its expansionist efforts and resettlements.[13] Christaller’s ideas oscillated between spatial policies of Großraum (in the East) and Lebensraum and culminated in such plans as the so-called Generalplan Ost (see Barnes & Minca 2013: 671-680). The Zentrale-Orte-Theorie also sought to provide a model for establishing cities as central socio-economic spaces or spaces in terms of interaction.

To understand the different depictions of space conceptions, we have to take a look to German and Austrian geography after 1918. The shrinking of the great Habsburg Empire to a little country called Deutsch-Österreich and the territorial loss of the German Empire in general was a major shock for many German and Austrian scientists, especially those who were active in the humanities. From the debates of the Treaty of Versailles and the rejection of these political events mainly by national conservative currents, we can see a development in German and Austrian geography that involves leaving the realm of physical geography and shifting interest more and more to cultural geography/human geography. As the linguists who investigated the spatial dimension of language were connected with geography, their attitude displays the same shift in ideas influenced by natural science to a more cultural scientific approach. This provided opportunities for multidisciplinary perspectives and the emergence of new branches of research (e.g. the young discipline of Volkskunde)[14] when dealing with linguistic questions, but also led to a more and more völkisch approach. In addition, the research into cultural space (Kulturraumforschung) was not principally a branch of geographic research, but rather maintained by the linguist Theodor Frings and other linguistic researchers. This means that the hard science “geography” gradually became a discipline of the humanities and with it began the connection to all other cultural studies, such as history; European ethnology (Volkskunde); linguistics, especially dialectology; onomastics; language island research and so on.

2. Dialect Borders and Cultural Spaces

The demarcation lines and the concepts of political and territorial history in Germany and Central Europe that were put on the map by German geographers from the 1920s onwards in their work on Volks- und Kulturbodenforschung show undeniable epistemic parallels with the usual language and cultural borders in dialectology. The notion of Kulturraum (cultural space) in linguistic research loosely converged in this period with the geographical notion of the Kulturgrenze (cultural border). But we have to differentiate between two perspectives on borders and language in linguistics. On the one hand, we have concepts about the borders within German dialects (i.e. within the subsystem of the natural language German) and, on the other, language space concepts of different natural languages. The dialectal variation of the German language had a clear focus on German (dialectal) variation within the German language, whereas language spaces of different natural languages corresponded with ideas of culture and nationality. There is an intersection of these two scientific realms through what is known as border languages and border language research (Grenzsprachenforschung) and language island research (Sprachinselforschung), with the metaphor of islands of German language in a sea of foreign language and culture.[15]

Hence the intersection of these two border concepts combined the question of (German) dialects with the question of cultural membership and the spreading of Deutschtum and led to the topic of Volkstum, separating German language from non-German language in the scientific practice of dialectologists and cultural geographers such as Albrecht Penck and his colleagues. The Slavonic parts of Central Europe and Southeast Europe were seen in particular as less civilized areas where German living space could be created. The attitude of discrimination characterized both geographical and dialectological research.[16]

The first kinds of border concepts, the dialect borders, are called isoglosses. These isoglosses of the German dialects were, put simply, mainly defined through the history of language and the development of dialectal varieties. The most important isoglosses of German dialectology are the Benrather Linie, the Speyerer Linie, and the Rheinischer Fächer.

The Benrather Linie seperates the High German area from the Low German area. An example of this division is the word “make”, which has the form maken in Low German and machen in High German. The different appearance of these words is explained by the High German Consonant Shift in the early middle ages, a change in the consonants of Germanic languages where some of the voiceless plosives became fricatives (e.g. p➜f, ship➜schiff), which continues to have a visible influence on the German dialectal landscape up to the present day (see Händler & Wiegand 1982; Niebaum & Macha 2006: 106).

As dialectology has always taken spoken language as its object of study, the main focus in the exploration of isoglosses was on the phonetic and phonological setting of the German language and dialects since the time of the High German Consonant Shift and the settlements of the Germanic tribes — such as Bavarians, Alemanni, Franks — in the early middle ages in Central Europe, from Austria and South Bavaria to east of today’s Germany (see Vogel 2012: 7). From the beginning of dialectology with Wenker’s Sprachatlas des Deutschen Reiches to the time of National Socialism these tribes and their original settlement areas were assumed to exist right up to the present. This evoked the idea of a historical continuity of German settlement in Central Europe since the time of the (late) migration period. We could legitimately ask why the names of the dialects and the dialect spaces are still influenced by this mainly historicist paradigm, whose terminological and methodological roots go back to the time of the establishment of the German Empire.[17] Of course it is no coincidence that the successor of Georg Wenker and the Deutscher Sprachatlas, Ferdinand Wrede, stated that the historical atlas has to be the most important instrument for the dialectologist (for Wrede’s position, see Wiesinger 1999: 296).

At this point we have to mention the Volks- und Kulturbodenforschung, mainly characterized by the German geographer Albrecht Penck (1858-1945), who was introduced above. This kind of human geography as a part of cultural studies had its beginning in national conservative discourses in the early 1900s. The term Volksboden implied the idea of the soil where Germans had their original area of settlements. However, the term Kulturboden is a bit more complex (and also ambiguous):

Ähnlich wie mit dem Begriff des ‘Volksbodens’ verhielt es sich zur gleichen Zeit mit dem Begriff des ‘Kulturbodens’. Allerdings war dieser Begriff weit vielschichtiger, da er einerseits als Bezeichnung für das agronomische Potential des Bodens für die landwirtschaftliche Nutzung, andererseits als Synonym für ‘Kulturlandschaft’ und schließlich darauf aufbauend auch im Zusammenhang mit den nationalen Konflikten innerhalb der Habsburgermonarchie als Schlagwort bzw. Kampfbegriff verwendet wurde. Von nationalliberalen und vor allem deutschnationalen Akteuren, wurde mit diesem Begriff der Topos eines vermeintlich dominierenden historischen Einflusses der Deutschen auf die Generierung einer spezifischen Kulturlandschaft beschworen. Dieser Topos war zugleich mit territorialen Machtansprüchen verknüpft, der sich mehrheitlich gegen die panslawistischen Bestrebungen richtete.
(Henniges 2015: 1314)

Language island and border language research was followed particularly closely by national conservative efforts to label regions outside Germany as German Volksboden/Kulturboden and to gain the upper hand over contested language borders (see Henniges 2015: 1313). Above all the Habsburg Empire, with its complicated language situation, raised questions of language policy from the late 19th century onwards (see Henniges 2015: 1313).


Dialect map, Anton Pfalz (1939: 145). The map shows the spread of dialectal consonants and vowels in Austria and the Sudetenland after 1938. It is interesting that the map does not show the Austrian Gaue, even though it is from the year 1939 (the separation of the Gaue was adopted on 14 April 1939 through the Ostmarkgesetz).

As Albrecht Penck himself comments, the borders of Germany after 1918 are not enough to explain Deutschtum as a whole: “Sowohl das alte bis 1806 bestehende Deutsche Reich als auch das neue Reich Bismarcks griffen hier über die 606000 Quadratkilometer […] deutschen Volksbodens hinaus”, and so, says Penck, there is a difficulty in the “Begrenzung eines rein nationalen Deutschland” (Penck 1925: 62-63).

Penck’s maps often seem like hybrids of different topics of thematic cartography. His so-called Volkstumskarten (ethnographical maps) often showed aspects and statistical data about language or religion.[18]

Penck also worked together with the creator of so-called “suggestive cartography”, Arnold Hillen Ziegfeld, who established a kind of cartography that made it clear that the use of maps has to be an explicit political enterprise.

As Ziegfeld himself says, suggestive maps are indisputably connected with geopolitics: “Das heißt […], daß die Kartenarbeit nur als eine politische Aufgabe gelöst werden kann, so wie sie es ihrem Wesen nach ist” (Ziegfeld 1935: 247). In addition to the journal Geopolitik, Ziegfeld also drew maps for the journal Volk und Reich (see Prehn 2010). It is still an open question whether such suggestive maps were the blueprints of some dialect maps or other language maps. If so, we can consider the main parts of dialectology of the whole 20th century to be predicated on explicit political and politically intended thoughts and space conceptions.

The works of the dialectologist Theodor Frings (1886-1968) spurred on Kulturraumforschung, an extralinguistic approach to dialect cartography in which it was assumed that cultural space is convergent with language space and that non-linguistic factors (interaction, settlement and territorial changes) have significantly influenced the development of German dialects across centuries (see Niebaum & Macha 2006: 99). Frings, together with the historian Hermann Aubin (1885-1969), worked on the historical and linguistic landscape of the Rhineland (see Wiesinger 1999: 295-296).[19] Hermann Aubin established the Atlas der deutschen Volkskunde (ADV), a project to collect and visualize linguistic, folkloristic and cultural aspects of German life, which was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft from the 1920s to 1980s. Aubin is well known in the history of science due to his heavy involvement in National Socialist Ostforschung. For example, he declared Poland nothing more than a German cultural landscape and developed a doctrine that promoted the resettlement of Polish and Jewish people (see Klee 2003: 20-21).

3. Words, Things and Atlases: Political Implications and Multidisciplinarity

Among the numerous kinds of thematic atlases that emerged in the 20th century was the linguistic atlas, which attempted to visualize and map the results of linguistic research. The dialect maps contained in such atlases were mainly maps of different lexemes or maps showing the spread of variant vowels and consonants. The first atlas of this kind, Wenker’s Deutscher Sprachatlas, was begun in the late 1870s, but the publication of the whole atlas started only in the 1920s and went on into the 1950s (see Deutscher Sprachatlas 2016). In addition, a special form of atlas was promoted: the multidisciplinary atlas, combining different kinds of disciplines of the humanities such as geography, history, linguistics, anthropology and ethnology (Volkskunde). The young discipline of Raumforschung (see Svatek 2009b; Svatek 2015) in particular facilitated a multidisciplinary perspective, as Petra Svatek showed with the example of the Viennese geographer Hugo Hassinger. Hassinger established the Südostdeutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SODFG) in 1931 in order to further and to legitimize the extension of this work into Southeast Europe, even though he had no clear definition of what Southeast Europe should be and which countries and nations the term should include. Proclaiming Vienna “the gate to the South-East”, Hassinger built a great career under National Socialism, even though he never became a member of the NSDAP. He was active in several different origanizations, such as the Südosteuropagegesellschaft (SOG), the AG-Raumforschung of the University of Vienna and the AG-Raumforschung der Wiener Hochschulen. His collaborators in such multidisciplinary efforts were mainly members of different disciplines of the humanities (see Svatek 2010b: 113-138). The linguistic researchers who were active in Hassingers network (which went beyond Austria due to its connections to Germany and the Southeast) were mainly dialectologists.[20]

After World War II, Hassinger played a leading role in the reconstruction of Vienna and was the leader of a scientific commission of the Austrian Academy of Science handling reconstruction efforts (see Svatek 2010a: 291).

Comparable connections of dialectology, Volkskunde and Raumforschung can be detected in Austria with the Burgenlandatlas, a multidisciplinary atlas of the 1930s which was promoted through financial resources of Nazi Germany long before the Anschluss (see Svatek 2009a). The atlas was published in 1941, edited by Fritz Bodo and Hugo Hassinger. A lot of the scientist who worked on the atlas were already National Socialists in the period when the party was outlawed in Austria and then, after the Anschluss, had important roles in scientific institutions of the humanities.[21]

For example, two dialectologists who worked on the Burgenlandatlas later worked on the Gauatlas Niederdonau, an atlas which provided a new geographic outlook on Austria, now ruled by National Socialists, with the focus on lower Austria. A map created by the Viennese dialectologist and pre-Anschluss National Socialist Anton Pfalz (1885-1958) and geographer Egon Lendl (1906-1989) visualize the deutsche Volksboden, which converges with the spaces of the German tribes (the Stammesräume; cf. Bodo Fritz, Hassinger & Hugo 1941: 1-2.). Other maps in this atlas offer a rather folkloristic look on German life, language and settlement. Still to this day there is a huge output of linguistic atlases, also with a folkloristic approach, such as the Sprach- und Sachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz (AIS).

The dimension of cultural objects/objects of cultural practice is something that leads with a detour to cartography. In the Deutsche Volkskunde at the beginning of the 20th century it was common to describe material culture together with dialectal words; as mentioned before, these ideas culminated in such great efforts as the Atlas der deutschen Volkskunde (ADV). The historian Friedemann Schmoll published a book about this work that was financially supported by the German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; see Schmoll 2009).

The atlas was not only influenced by the current of words and things (Wörter- und Sachen-Bewegung; cf. Meringer 1904/1905; Schuchardt 1912), which observed the folklorist-cultural dependence of words and their objects of reference.[22] It also showed epistemic, structural and personal intersections with (linguistic) atlas projects other than the Deutsche Sprachatlas (DSA) in Marburg and specific politicized projects in the period of National Socialism; for example, with the connection to the two leaders of the Sprachatlas from 1933, Walter Mitzka and Bernhard Martin. In their work of the 1930s and 1940s, both offer the formula that language is equal to Volkstum and with it the importance of German settlement, German-ruled areas and of a sprachliche Raumgewinnung (Auer 2004: 156).[23] From this evolved an explicitly völkisch and expansionist approach. In addition, Martin was in contact with the Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft für Raumforschung (RAG; Becker 2005: 107), a spatial planning institution for Southeast Europe. Martin was also the leader of the department Volkssprache in the Reichsgemeinschaft für Deutsche Volksforschung (Becker 2005: 195).

The question of what politics or policy in these contexts really mean or could mean is something that I want to explain with reference to two different theoretical approaches, those of the authors Volker Roelcke and Mitchell G. Ash.

Volker Roelcke explained his plea for a political-historical epistemology in an approach that seeks to transcend the historical epistemology of the historian of science Hans-Jörg Rheinberger. For Roelcke “[d]ie zentrale Hypothese […] besteht darin, dass die systematisierte Einbeziehung und Reflexion der politischen Dimension bei der Produktion von neuem Wissen in den Wissenschaften für ein angemessenes Verständnis vieler historischer Phänomene unverzichtbar ist” (Roelcke 2010: 177). Hence the political aspects not only of scientific knowledge, but of knowledge production in general are a crucial point of his claim. Reading Mitchell G. Ash, we can see that science and policy can be seen as resources for one another — cognitive, conceptional or institutional resources (see Ash 2006: 25; Ash 2002) — and that we can identify, as Ash suggests, a pluralistic meaning of policy: the great policy, policy in a rather narrow sense (e.g. cultural policy) and policy of the small (power relationships in institutions etc.; see Ash 2006: 21-22).

There are three examples in dialectology of the early 20th century where we can see the implicit political aspect in a quite transparent way: first, the inquiry of the language islands of Central Europe and Southeast-Europe (Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Romania); second, the linguistic inquiry of politically contested border spaces like the Rhineland, the territories of Austria at the border of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia; and third the lack of inquiry of the non-European language islands (e.g. Brazil, USA etc.) which were not of interest to the agenda of expansion because of the geographical distance.

4. Conclusion

To date there has been much discipline-internal study of the history of language and dialect cartography, but it has not yet been drawn into the ambit of the history of science. This is necessary in order to write an adequate and comprehensive history of cartography. Not only is the historical context of the formation of mapping language and mapping dialects in the 19th century connected with nationalism and political space concepts (which led to an expansionist, political and ideological climax in the 20th century in the context of the two World Wars), but also the continuity of method and practice of linguistic mapping in dialectology to this day makes it clear that mapping is an important instrument which should be reflected on in different disciplines to enhance a multidisciplinary perspective on these visualizing strategies of linguistic knowledge.

If we focus on dialectology in the time of National Socialism we have to rethink the position of German linguistics in the Third Reich. This particular discipline, which was open to other linguistic approaches and was less specialized in the first half of the 20th century (see Ehlers 2010: 27), was not only the product of völkisch and national conservative currents since the 1920s, but was indeed the supporting force for expansionist thought and National Socialist geopolitics.[24] With its per se spatial approach the discipline provided the space concepts of propagandistic Volkstumsforschung, border and space policy and offered at the same time a scientific vindication of them. It functioned as a fundamental mainspring of language policy concerning Eastern Europe and other contested areas.

With its focus on aspects of the historical and spatial development of (German) language, an epistemic bridge was built between geography and language issues that worked together with instruments of cultural geography. Connections to suggestive cartography can be detected, but still require detailed research.


[1] Akerman also highlighted the very specific practice of not only producing maps, but also collecting them in atlases, thereby providing a social meaning with this collective work whilst structuring the perception of these contents. Besides, “Atlas structure — the architecture of the selection, arrangement, and design of the maps — manipulates political territory chiefly by manipulating regions: identifying them, defining their limits, moving them around, enlarging and contracting them, and giving them political meaning within the two-tiered space of a book” (Akerman 1995: 139).

[2] “Living space” is a heavily loaded term in German: Lebensraum was a rhetorical resource whose roots lie in Friedrich Ratzel’s work in the 19th century. It was later often used by national conservative currents and by the National Socialists (see Barnes & Minca 2013).

[3] See also Mann (1986: 123), who says that “[…] the power of the state is irreducible in quite a different socio-spatial and organizational sense. Only the state is inherently centralized over a delimited territory over which it has authorative power.”

[4] Auer is talking about the ideology of the nation state (see Auer 2004: 150). Historically, I guess, it would be better not to understand the “young” concept of the nation state in the 19th century as an ideology, but rather (neutrally) as a newly emerging political conception. The critique of nationalism as an ideology is legitimate if we observe historical events of the last decades, but misses its aim if projected to events centuries ago.

[5] Auer says that today the ideas of language spaces in dialectology are still very naïve and lack a complex theoretical foundation. Indeed, the new conceptualizations of space in modern physics since the beginning of the 20th century as well as the term “spatial turn” of cultural studies were never received in dialectology, and so all of “traditional dialectology” was searching for objective dialect spaces whilst employing quasi-scientific terms.

[6] For an extended description of the term ethnodialectology, see Spiekermann & Anders (2012).

[7] These maps are the visualizations of dialectological knowledge. The area of spread of dialects can be seen as the epistemisches Ding (epistemic thing), i.e. the entity under examination, not yet discovered or interpreted. The dialect map was then the carried out technisches Ding (technical thing) of linguistic-spatial knowledge about the spread of language in space. For the terms epistemisches/technisches Ding, see Rheinberger (1992).

[8] The term Sprachinselforschung has been replaced in the last few decades with the term Sprachkontaktforschung and focuses now on the idea of the contact of different languages. The problem with the term “language island” is that this metaphor evokes the image of an encapsuled entity in a foreign sea which can be and of course was put into the service of political agendas.

[9] The paradigm of pluricentricity is applied especially in the discussion of the German language: “Den Kern des ‘plurinationalen’ Paradigmas stellt das Postulat von staatsspezifisch distinkten Erscheinungsformen der deutschen Standardsprache dar, die – auf Basis der Gleichsetzung von ‘Staat’ und ‘Nation’ – als ‘Nationalvarietäten’ (bzw. ‘nationale Varietäten’) bezeichnet werden“ (Glauninger 2007/2011: 1).

[10] For Franceschini there is not only a multilgual co-existence in the area of Europe that involves migrant languages, national languages, sign languages and so on, but also an empirically examined interactional aspect.

[11] The economic aspect in these discourses about Central Europe should not be underestimated, as is demonstrated by non-gonvernmental but economically influential protagonists, such as private think tanks that deal with the Central European economic zone. For a historical inquiry of these ideas of Central Europe, see the broad-ranging examination of Central Europe and Southeast Europe as a planning zone during the World Wars (including also Southeast Europe) in Sachse (2010). This work not only shows the theoretical discourses of Central Europe in the period of the World Wars, but explains their expression in specific socio-economic concepts and entrepreneurship. These early approaches of a huge German zone (Greater Germany) were later used as a point of reference and realized with the Anschluss of Austria onto the Third Reich. A more detailed discussion of the Anschluss-movement is not possible in this paper.

[12] Du takes the inverse approach, not coming from linguistics, but from the discipline of environmental science and geography. In linguistic paradigms Du sees the chance to add new aspects to the realm of geographic information systems (GIS) and the question of the semioticity of maps.

[13] These resettlements in Central Europe are discussed by Barnes and Minca as a process of deterritorialization with subsequent re-territorialization (see Barnes & Minca 2013: 672).

[14] The first official position for Volkskunde at a university in Germany was established in the year 1933 (see Schmoll 2009: 47).

[15] The metaphor of language and water was often used, e.g. in the Wellentheorie (wave theory), a linguistic theory of the development of language and the interference of different Indo-European languages. Similar to the movement of waves, languages would interfere with each other and would decrease with the passage of time. For the wave theory, see Höfler (1955).

[16] The disparagement of Slavonic languages and Slavonic people is a huge chapter of German science in the early 20th century, but cannot be treated explicitly in this paper.

[17] For the term “historicism”, see Kiesewetter & Popper (2003). For Popper, historicism is a form of belief that assumes the possibility of historical prediction. If so, we could predict the direction of societies historically which was part of ideologies in different totalitarian regimes.

[18] The connection of such maps and language statistics and the relationship of population politics and language policy is very important, but unfortunately I cannot go further into the topic here.

[19] It is irritating that the dialectologist Peter Wiesinger conceals the clearly political aspects of the Kulturraumforschung of Aubin and Frings. Considering the cultural-political meaning of the Atlas der Rheinprovinz (1920), this lack of awareness is astonishing given that the Rhineland was a contested area in 1919 with its occupation through French and Belgian troops. In the face of Aubin’s deep Involvement in the NS-Ostforschung the expungement of political aspects is not only a strange move, but distorts the image of Hermann Aubin as a scientist and affects (and trivializes) the perception of Frings as well.

[20] For example, Anton Pfalz, Professor at the University of Vienna and the leader of the Wiener Wörterbuchkanzei (Academy of Science) since 1920 (see Fengler 2013: 238; Svatek 2010b: 124), Walter Steinhauser, another member of the university teaching people in Vienna and also working at the Wörterbuchkanzlei (see Fengler 2013: 249; Ranzmaier 2010: 430; Svatek 2010b: 114), Erich Gierach from the University of Munich (Svatek 2010b: 115), Franz J. Beranek who observed the dialects in Moravia and was later known for his involvement in National Socialist Judenforschung (see Svatek 2010b: 115; Steinweis 2008: 152-156), Hans Karner who had his focus on the dialects of the Burgenland (see Svatek 2010b: 115). The ethnological perspective was represented through such scientists as Kurt Wilvonseder (see Svatek 2010b: 125), Richard Wolfram (see Svatek 2010b: 124) and Arthur Haberlandt (Svatek 2010b: 124).

[21] Collaborators on the atlas were Fritz Bodo, Hugo Hassinger, Otto Brunner, Arthur Haberlandt, Anton Pfalz, Walter Steinhauser, Kurt Wilvonseder, Ernst Klebel, Viktor Lebzelter, Egon Lendl and others (see Bodo Fritz, Hassinger & Hugo 1941).

[22] This material dimension is something that can be interpreted as a carrier of traditional knowledge, which could perhaps be seen as opposed to scientific knowledge. This traditional knowledge, recorded in physical objects, is something that can be seen as a space of both phenomenological and literal meaning (see Safier 2010: 139). The contemporary Anglo-American material culture studies are disciplines which examine the material dimension of cultural goods and museum artefacts (see Thiemeyer 2011: 6).

[23] See Wilking (2003: 103-122), who talks in particular about Mitzkas involvement in the Kriegseinsatz der Geisteswissenschaften.

[24] This cannot be seen as enslavement from above, nor should it be interpreted in the sense of little political indiscretions of otherwise apolitical people or contexts. Political implications of dialectological terms and concepts of traditional dialectology are sedimented (to use a ground metaphor) deep into methods and theory. This does not mean that these concepts are non-scientific: the problem is rather ignoring the serious connection of scientific (dialectological) knowledge and political contexts as science is always influenced by society and time. A lot of dialectologists were serious scientists (in the context of their time) but had very problematic political positions as well. Authors like Eberhard Kranzmayer, Anton Pfalz, Bernhard Martin and Walther Mitzka were not only important persons for science policy, but also led volkstumswissenschaftliche institutions such as the Institut für Kärntner Landesforschung, a departement of the SS-Ahnenerbe (Eberhard Kranzmayer led this institution; see Bockhorn 2010: 209), as collaborators on political atlases or in the context of the Volksdeutschen Forschungsgemeinschaften (Anton Pfalz in the Südostdeutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft-SODFG and the Alpenländische Forschungsgemeinschaft-AFG; see Fürst 2012: 180), in the context of structuring the universities after National Socialist ideas and so on.


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How to cite this post

Braun, Jan David. 2016. Mapping Language: linguistic cartography as a topic for the history of science. History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences.

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Posted in 20th century, Austria, Dialectology, Europe, Germany, History, Linguistics

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