Cardinal directions – geographical, mental and cultural
Abstract CogTop 1, June 5 2014, Department of Nordic Research, University of Copenhagen
Place names like Nørre (Northern) Skjoldborg – Sønder (Southern) Skjoldborg or Yder (Outer) Bjerrum – Inder (Inner) Bjerrum are examples of what has been called reciprocation: “localities with identical names [are distinguished] from each other linguistically by the addition to their names of a characterizing element” (Jørgensen 1977). The phenomenon is well-known in several languages but I focus on data from Danish. The linguistic elements that enter into this construction are often basic conceptualizations from spatial language: great/little, North/South/East/West, up(Upper)/down(Lower)/in(Inner)/out(Outer), but they can also be appellatives denoting natural features: Skov (Wood) Hastrup, people: Kongens (The King’s) Lyngby, Munke (Monk) Bjergby), institutions: Kirke (Church) Værløse), or other person or place names: Svinninge Lamdrup, Gislev Lamdrup.
The use of the various kinds of characterizing elements in place names seems to follow certain patterns. Distance has been suggested as a factor: reciprocation with basic spatial markers seems to have been applied to places relatively close to each other, while appellatives etc. have been applied to places farther away from each other. Also, there is a significant geographical variation in the distribution of various elements: the use of cardinal directions as characterizing element in place names is much more frequent in North/Western Jutland and the old Danish landscape Scania (Skåne, now Southern Sweden) than in for instance Eastern/Southern Jutland and on the island of Funen.
In this presentation I explore these patterns (and relations) more thoroughly, both theoretically and empirically, using the cardinal directions as an example. My main argument is that in order to understand the patterns in the use of a specific type of characterizing element, it is fruitful to make an analysis of the conceptual constraints that come with the basic spatial semantics of the elements, for instance the cardinal directions, and combine this with an analysis of the different domains, i.e. the relevant, proto-typical socio-cultural activity spheres in which the specific elements were used when the reciprocation took place (1. traditional farm building, 2. typical field of a farm and/or village, 3. wider landscape).
In the case of cardinal directions I conclude that the input from the conceptual constraints is able to account for the fact that this particular type of characterizing element is used in some typical socio-cultural activity spheres and not in others, based on the possibility of being able to make the spatial reference sufficiently unambiguous and precise for practical purposes in actual communication. The cardinal directions are for instance ideal when making reference to 1-4 subfields within a surrounding reference sphere. This makes them suitable when a settlement (farm, field, village, parish) is split into 2 (or 3-4) minor, independent parts. However the typical field of a farm and/or village is organized in more than 4 specific subfields, making the use of cardinal directions less efficient for naming purposes in this case.
However, an explanation of the geographical distribution calls for further detailed studies of the linguistic and socio-cultural factors, for instance settlement patterns over time, patterns of spatial language in the local dialect and possible influence from political or cultural traditions in local place naming.