Before the Spatial Turn: The Areal Aspect in 1980s German Onomastics and its Application in Current Research

  • Christian Zschieschang
Keywords: place names, settlement names, mapping, spatial turn, historical settlement landscape


    Mapping isn’t just mapping. Far from an easy matter, presenting and analysing place names on maps is theoretically and practically challenging. In onomastic research at Leipzig, the areal aspect was concluded decades ago to be one of three main aspects useful for investigating language contact. Accordingly, the geographical distribution of names needs to be examined within the broader linguistic, cultural and social context. The areal aspect thus seems to be a forerunner of the ‘spatial turn’. ‘Areal onomastics’ also played a prominent role in Czech research.
    Practical problems include ensuring a clear mapping design, the careful interpretation of mapping without undue conclusions, the definition of place-name areas, and the choice of a base map suitable for the aim of cartographic presentation. Given the objective of mapping place names as evidence of the historical settlement landscape, the base map should also show the former landscape as precisely as possible. This means for example that contemporary objects like reservoirs and canals etc. should be erased from present-day topographic maps while features such as historical shorelines must be taken into account.