AP Human Geography
Geographer’s Perspective on
• Language transmits culture.
•Attitudes, understandings, and responses are
partly determined by the words available.
• Languages help define cultural diversity and
distinct regions.
World’s Major Languages
• 50% of world population speak one of 12
major languages listed
• Mandarin Chinese is largest with 885 million
• English is the primary language of 350 million
and is the official language of about 50
This graphic shows the uneven numbers of speakers of languages in the world. Nearly 80%
of the world's population speaks only 83 (1.1%) of the world's languages. The 3,586
(51.2%) smallest languages are spoken by only 0.2% of the world's population.
Official Languages of Countries
Online Population, 1996 - 2005
Fig. 5-1.1: English is still the largest language on the internet, but there has been
rapid growth in many others, especially Chinese.
2000 & 2004
Fig 5-1.2: English and English-speaking
countries still dominate ecommerce, but other languages
are growing rapidly.
Part 1
Language – a set of sounds, combinations of sounds, and
symbols that are used for communication.
Language Terms
• Standard language/Official Language-an official
language sustained by the state in the form of state
examination for teachers, civil servants and others.
• Language family-a group of languages descended
from a single, earlier tongue.
• Language Branch- collection of languages under a
larger language family.
• Standard English/Received Pronunciation:
Considered to be the standard form of English
spoken by educated Britons in London, the English
found in English tv and radio broadcasts.
• Think of the world’s
language families as the
branches of a tree.
Isogloss -A geographic boundary within which a
particular linguistic feature occurs
Dialect-variants of a standard language along regional or
ethnic lines- vocabulary-syntax- pronunciation- cadencepace of speech
Accent: The way a language sounds or pronounced in a
certain location.
Vernacular: the local form of a language, words and phrases
unique to a certain area.
• An idiom is often used synonymously with
dialect to refer to a language that is peculiar
to a certain group of people or region.
• Idiomatic expressions (separate from literal
– Pulling my leg
– Keep an eye out
– Raining cats and dogs
• The study of place names
• Consists of:
– Natural features
– Origins/values of inhabitants
– Belief structures, religions
– Current or past heroes
Changing Toponyms
• When people change the toponym of a place, they have
the power to “wipe out the past and call forth the new.” Yi-Fu Tuan
Changing Toponyms
• Major reasons people
change toponyms:
– After decolonization
– After a political
– To memorialize people
or events
– To commodify or brand
a place
Martin Luther King, Jr. Streets
• Translate this into formal English:
• “I’m down to chill. Hit me up when you guys
hang out. I’ll be at the crib.”
• And… “This party is tight but that guy over
there is shady. I’m gonna bounce.”
• Definition: Untrustworthy people/interactions
• Part of Speech: Adjective
• Ex.: Nobody trusted the shady store owner.
• Ex.: The unfair business deal was so shady!
Close Reading Activity The New
York Times
• What exactly is slang?
• Why is it difficult for “oppositional uses of
language” to stay oppositional or exclusive?
• Why is it difficult to compile a dictionary of
• Given that mainstream dictionaries now
include slang terms, do we need slang
dictionaries? Why or why not?
• What is the history of the word “crib”?
Word Cloud Homework
• Pick a Slang Word!
• Find out the following information:
Part(s) of speech
Definition of the word
all related words
Connotations of the word
Uses of the word in context and popular culture over time (this could
include references on television, in songs or movies and in print)
Websites to make your word cloud:
Part 2
Influences on the Distribution of
• The result of a combination of two
geographic processes
– Interaction
– Isolation
• Geographic processes develop distinct
dialects and individual languages.
• These processes are the interplay of
– migration
– geographic isolation.
– explain how a single language can later become two or
more or remain similar.
How are Languages Formed?
Language divergence –
when a lack of spatial interaction among speakers of a
language breaks the language into dialects and then new
Language convergence –
when peoples with different languages have consistent
spatial interaction and their languages collapse into one.
Mutual Intelligibility- means two people can understand each
other when speaking.
• Cannot measure mutual intelligibility
• Standard languages and governments impact what is
a “language” and what is a “dialect”
How do Languages Diffuse?
human interaction
print distribution
Rise of nation-states
Spatial Interaction helps create:
• Lingua franca –
A language used among speakers of different languages for
the purposes of trade and commerce.
• Pidgin language –
a language created when people combine parts of two or
more languages into a simplified structure and vocabulary.
• Creolized language –
a pidgin language that has developed a more complex
structure and vocabulary and has become the native
language of a group of people.
a country in which
only one language is
a country in which
more than one
language is in use
Official Language
should a multilingual
state adopt an official
Monolingual States
• Japan
• Venezuela
• Denmark
• Portugal
• Poland
Multilingual States
• Belgium
• India
• Canada
• Peru
Languages of China
• Chinese has the most speakers of any language.
• It is one of the world’s oldest languages spoken by
the greatest contiguous population on Earth.
• Southern China-the most variety and dialects-most
are mutually unintelligible.
• Some scholars argue that for this reason-it is not one
language, but several.
• Mandarin-the dominate language of the North
spoken by 700 million including Beijing.
• Wu is next with 100 million speakers in Shanghai
• Yue-or Cantonese is spoken by 70 million in the SE.
Chinese Ideograms
Fig. 5-13: Chinese language ideograms mostly represent concepts rather than
sounds. The two basic characters at the top can be built into more
complex words.
Language and Culture
“No one was allowed to speak the language – the
Dena’ina language. They [the American government]
didn’t allow it in the schools, and a lot of the women had
married non-native men, and the men said, ‘You’re
American now so you can’t speak the language.’ So, we
became invisible in the community. Invisible to each
other. And, then, because we couldn’t speak the language
– what happens when you can’t speak your own language
is you have to think with someone else’s words, and that’s
a dreadful kind of isolation”
Clare Swan, elder, Dena’ina Indians (Native
• Language Isolation/Isolate: a language with
nothing in common with other languages:
example: Korean
• Language Extinction: the point at which a
language no longer has any active speakers.
• Linguistic Refuge: areas providing minority
linguistic groups refuge from aggressive
The Environment Provides Refuge
• Inhospitable environments offer protection and
• Provide outnumbered linguistic groups refuge
from aggressive neighbors
• Linguistic refuge areas
Rugged mountain areas
Excessively cold or dry climates
Impenetrable forests and remote islands
Extensive marshes and swamps
• Unpleasant environments rarely attract
• Mountains tend to isolate inhabitants of one
valley from another
Loan Words
• Terms used by a particular language that
have their origins in other tongues.
• Spanglish for example.
Language Conflict
• Language can sometimes be at the heart of political
conflict. What language should be used? Language
• Attempts to make English the official language of the
US for decades. 10-15% of Americans speak a
language other than English.
• Critics argue that doing so interferes with a citizens
right to due process because the courts might no
longer provide translators
• Supporters argue it will encourage immigrants to
learn English.
Language Pollution
• When one language is “polluted” or made
worse by the influence of other languages
• Loan words: terms used by a particular
language that have their origins in other
• Spanglish
French and English in Canada
• France and the Canadian province of Quebec
• English has been creeping into the French
language (le weekend)
• 1975: French government began passing laws
banning English from advertising and official
government documents
French-English Boundary in Canada
Fig. 5-18: Although Canada is bilingual, French speakers are concentrated in the
province of Québec, where 80% of the population speaks French.

Language - George Washington High School