Linguistic Ecology
Today environmental isolation is no
longer the linguistic force it once was
Inhospitable lands and islands are
reachable by airplanes
Marshes and forests are being
drained and cleared by farmers
The world is interactive
The environment guides migration
Migrants were often attracted to new lands
that seemed environmentally similar to
their homelands
They could pursue adaptive strategies known to
Germanic Indo-Europeans chose familiar
temperate zones in America, New Zealand, and
Semitic peoples rarely spread outside arid and
semiarid climates
Ancestors of modern Hungarians left
grasslands of inner Eurasia for new homes in
the grassy Alföld, one of the few prairie areas of
The environment guides migration
Environmental barriers and natural
routeways guided linguistic groups along
certain paths
Indo-Europeans traveled through low
mountain passes to the Indian
subcontinent, avoiding the Himalayas and
barren Deccan Plateau
In India today, the IndoEuropean/Dravidian language boundary
seems to approximate an ecological
The environment guides migration
Mountain barriers frequently serve as
linguistic borders
In part of the Alps, speakers of German
and Italian live on opposite sides of a
major ridge
Portions of mountain rim along the
northern edge of the Fertile Crescent
form the border between Semitic and
Indo-European tongues
The environment guides migration
Linguistic borders that follow such
physical features tend to be stable
and endure for thousands of years
Language borders that cross plains
and major routes of communication
are frequently unstable — GermanicSlavic boundary on the North
European Plain
The Mosaic of Languages
Linguistic Culture Regions
Linguistic Diffusion
Linguistic Ecology
Culturo-Linguistic Integration
Linguistic Landscapes
Urumchi, China
Urumchi is the
capital of Xinjian
Uyghurs are one of
China’s 55 minority
Because this
resource-rich area
is also a
Urumchi, China
official policy has
been one of
whereby Chinese
have been
encouraged to
move to the region.
However, most of
the Chinese are
concentrated in the
capital city where
Urumchi, China
sinage is in two
Ugyhur, written in
Arabic script, belongs
to the Altaic language
family while Chinese,
written in characters is
part of the SinoTibetan language
Together, they
produce an alien
linguistic landscape for
most visitors.
Language is intertwined with all
aspects of culture
Comparative social, demographic,
political, and technological
characteristics groups are needed to
understand the linguistic map
Linguistic cultural integration can
reflect the dominance of one group
over another — a dominance based
in culture
Technology and linguistic
Technological superiority is usually
involved in allowing one group to gain
dominance over another
Importance of the development of
Certain cultures became more complex and
Written languages advanced at the expense of
illiterate cultures
Were invariably the invention of agricultural
Greek, Latin, and Chinese, along with other
Technology and linguistic
Importance of the development of
Facilitated record keeping, allowing
government to develop
With empire building, languages tend to spread
with imperial expansion
Imperial expansion of European and U.S.
power altered the linguistic patterns among
millions of people
Superimposed Indo-European tongues in the tropics
and subtropics
Areas most affected were Asia, Africa, and the
Austronesian island world
Technology and linguistic
In South America, the expanding empires
of Spain and Portugal clashed in the
fifteenth century
Signed the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494
Spain received control over all colonial lands
west of a certain meridian
Portugal gained control over lands east of the
Brazil eventually became Portuguese speaking
In most of the rest of South America Spanish
Technology and linguistic
When imperial nations gave up their colonial
empires, their languages remained
English is still spoken in much of Africa, the Indian
subcontinent, the Philippines, and certain areas of the
Pacific islands
French persists in north, west and central Africa,
Madagascar, and Polynesia
In most areas English and French function as languages
of the educated elite and of government, commerce, and
higher education
Often hold status as legal languages, serving has link
Help hold countries together where native languages are
multiple and divisive
Technology and linguistic
Affect of transportation technology on
geography of languages
Ships, railroads, and highways usually spread
languages of cultural groups who build them
Sometimes spells doom for the speech of
peoples whose lands are opened to outside
Trans-Siberian Railroad spread Russian
language eastward to Pacific Ocean
Presently highway construction into Brazil’s
Amazonian interior threatens Indian languages
The social morale model
Model built by geographer Charles Withers
Explains the process of language loss
incurred by conquered cultural groups
Placed in a lower social class
Lose pride in their language and culture,
eventually abandoning both
Education system based solely on socially
dominant language produces bilingualism
Monoglots, or persons speaking one tongue
The social morale model
If conquered group literate, they will
usually start to become illiterate in
their traditional language
Often no legal or religious status is
accorded the conquered language
Old way of speech considered primitive
and its use socially degrading
Denying the oppressed language access
to broadcast facilities can hasten
process of decline
United States reveals decline of
languages other than English
Native Americans subjected to linguistic
assaults from dominant culture
Indian children taken from families and
placed in boarding schools
Indian children were forbidden to speak
their own languages
In 1910, one out of every four Americans
could fluently speak some language other
than English (14 percent could in 1990)
Only Spanish speakers have had long-term
success in keeping their speech
Morale is not always broken by
conquest and subsequent
Greeks have suffered periods of rule by
Romans and Turks
Have kept their language
Remained convinced their culture was superior
Chinese absorbed Mongol invaders and made
Chinese out of them
Sometimes languages of conquered and
conqueror blend
The economic development model
Also developed by Charles Withers
Industrialization accompanied by
urbanization breaks up social structure
needed to perpetuate an indigenous
Transition from subsistence farmer to
factory laborer is destructive to minority
Particularly destructive when factory
language is not that of the farm
The economic development model
Industrialization tends to draw population
from rural linguistic refuge area leaving
fewer speakers of minority languages
behind —process called the clearance
If industrial development occurs in refuge
area, speakers of dominant language are
drawn in producing a changeover model —
native speakers are overwhelmed by
intrusion of foreigners
The economic development model
Plight of Welsh language in Great Britain
Illustrates Withers’ social morale, economic
development, clearance, and changeover
Now stands at the threshold of extinction
Speakers were long denigrated
British educational system promoted English
Urbanization and industrialization knocked
holes in spatial fabric of Welsh
Massive rural emigration followed to Englishspeaking towns and factories
The economic development model
Geographer Keith Buchanan referred to
decline of Welsh and other Celtic
languages as a “liquidation” by ruling
English to produce a loyal, obedient work
force for mines and factories
Recently the Welsh language has been granted
educational and media privileges by British
Social morale of its speakers is broken
Largely aged speakers survive
The day nears when inhabitants may not know
what the names of towns, rivers, and mountains
The Welsh may not even be able to understand
their family names
The economic development model
The ongoing achievement of
independence by various linguistic
minority groups could rescue some
languages previously endangered —
examples of Estonia and Latvia
Language and religion
Occasionally a language is linked to a
particular religious faith heightening
cultural identity
Example of Arabic
Spread from a core area on the Arabian
peninsula with the Islamic faith
Without the evangelical fervor of the
Muslims, Arabic would not have diffused
so widely
Language and religion
Other Semitic languages also
correspond to particular religious
We can attribute the preservation and
revival of Hebrew to the tenacity of the
Jewish faith
Amharic speakers in Ethiopia are
Coptics, or Eastern Christians
Language and religion
Link between speech and faith can be seen
within very small areas
Example of Pakistan — studied by German
geographer Hermann Kneutzmann
Studied 17 languages in isolated mountain valleys in
northernmost part of country
Over 90 percent of speakers of 12 of the languages
belonged to one of four local Muslim sects
Language a mountain person speaks usually
helps determine religious denomination
Language and religion
Latin survived mainly as the
ceremonial language of the Roman
Catholic Church
In Iran, a non-Arabic Muslim land,
Arabic is still used in religious
Language and religion
Religious books can shape languages
by providing a standard form
Luther’s translation of the Bible led to
standardization of German language
The Koran is the model for written Arabic
Early Welsh translation of a hymnal and
the Bible helped the language survive
In Fiji, the Bible published in one of the
15 local dialects elevated it to the
dominant native language
Language and religion
Linkage of language and religion
increase chance of nationalistic
Greek/Christian - Turkish/Muslim
problem in Cyprus
Armenian/Christian - Azeri/Muslim war
Battle against Nio-Saharan/Christian and
animist tribal groups in Sudan
The Mosaic of Languages
Linguistic Culture Regions
Linguistic Diffusion
Linguistic Ecology
Culturo-Linguistic Integration
Linguistic Landscapes
Linguistic landscapes
1. Cultural landscape bears the
imprint of language in various ways
Example-road signs, billboards, graffiti,
Can be a visual index to bilingualism or
linguistic oppression of minorities
2. Differences in alphabets render
many foreign linguistic landscapes
vividly alien
Samoan, a Polynesian language
Both friendly and hostile messages are sent by
linguistic landscapes
Often have political content—deal with power,
domination, subjugation, or freedom (Figure 5.13)
Example of Turkey
Kurdish or Arabic speakers are not allowed any visual
display of their languages
Linguistic landscape displays only Turkish
Linguistic minorities are visually reminded of their inferior
Québec has tried to eliminate English-language
Often directly reflect spatial patterns of language, dialect,
and ethnicity
Become part of the cultural landscape when they appear on
signs and placards
Highway signs such as Huntsville, Harrisburg, Ohio River,
Newfound Gap, etc. often provide a visible index to
distribution of other cultural traits
Many place-names consist of two parts — the generic and
the specific
The specific part of the names listed above (#4) would be:
Hunts, Harris, Ohio, Newfound, and Hatteras
The generic parts, which tell what kind of place is being
described are:
vile, burg, river, gap
This is a French
toponym meaning
“grassland of the
The French
Marquette and
Joliet, following
natural routeways
from Montreal,
reached this prairie
site at the
confluence of the
Mississipi and
Wisconsin Rivers
in 1673.
Alim, mean “dog”
was the name of
the local Indian
“Prairie” is the
generic and “du
Chien” the
specific part of this
Developed as a fur
trading cener, it
indeed became a
rendezvous or
meeting place, a
notion incorporated
in the civic
boosterism of
modern times.
Generic toponyms are of greater
value to cultural geographers than
specific names
They appear again and again throughout
a culture region
Every culture or subculture has its own
distinctive set
Can be particularly valuable in tracing
the spread of a culture
Often aid in reconstructing past culture
Generic toponyms of the United
New Englanders, speakers of the Northern dialect,
frequently used the term center in the name of the
town or hamlet near the center of township
Outlying settlements in New England frequently
bear the prefix east, west, north, or south — the
name of township being the suffix
Using these generic usages peculiar to New
England we can locate colonies New Englanders
founded as they migrated from their homelands
Westward through upstate New York, Ontario, and into
the upper Midwest
Toponymic evidence can be found in Walworth County,
Generic toponyms of the United
Other generic place names identified with
the Northern dialect—brook, notch, and
The trace of New England even reaches
Seattle, Washington where “center” and
“corner” are frequently used
Midland American areas can be identified
by such terms as gap, cove, hollow, knob,
and burgh
Southern speech is recognized by names
as bayou, gully, and store (for rural
Toponyms and cultures of the past
Place-names may survive long after a
culture has vanished, thereby preserving
traces of the past
Australia abounds in Aborigine toponyms—
even in areas where the native peoples
have long since disappeared
Toponyms identifying physical geographical
features seem to last permanently
Study of archaic names has greater value
in the Eastern Hemisphere
Australian Aborigine toponym
Toponyms and cultures of the past
Example of eastern Germany
Suffixes ow, in, and zig are common Slavic
suffixes in village names
Suffix distribution accurately reveals the culture
region peopled by Slavic tribes as late as A.D.
Slavic languages have disappeared from most
of eastern Germany
Suffix weiler, in names of German villages
south of the Danube and west of the Rhine,
reminds us of former Roman rule and Latin
Toponyms and cultures of the past
Example of Spain and Portugal
Moorish rule for 700 years left many
Arabic place-names
Prefix of guada on river names is a
corruption of the Arabic wadi
Toponyms and cultures of the past
Example of New Zealand
The Maori, a native Polynesian people, are today
confined mainly to refuge areas
The smaller the town the larger the percentage of Maori
Twenty percent of provinces have Maori names
Fifty-six percent of counties have Maori names
Nearly all streams, hills, and mountains retain Maori
Implication—British settlement remains largely an urban
Linguistic landscapes can help shape the
character of places
Toponyms and environmental
Generic place-names tell us about
humankind’s past alteration of the
Germanic peoples cleared forests from
England eastward into present-day Poland
Toponyms sometimes indicate how clearing
was accomplished
Suffixes roth and reuth, as in Neuroth and
Bayreuth, mean “rooted out” or “grubbed out”,
and refer to the practice of digging out roots
after cutting trees
Toponyms and environmental
In England, ley or leigh, as in Woodley,
means “clearing” or “open place” in the
In European place-names, brind, brunn,
and brand, reveal clearing by using fire
In eastern woodlands of the United States,
American Indians cleared considerable
forest areas before the coming of
Abandoned grass-covered fields survived
Europeans recorded these places of
deforestation by calling them prairie
Over 200 of these generic terms appear in
wooded eastern Texas alone

The Mosaic of Languages - University of Texas at Austin