In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Language Geography

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Language Atlases, Mapping Projects, and Language Geography Databases
  • Language in Its Physical and Social Environments

Linguistics Language Geography
Hannah J. Haynie
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0202


Unlike a unified, interdisciplinary field, language geography has largely been a decentralized area of study, carried out by individuals with interdisciplinary interests rather than through collaborations between linguists, geographers, and others with an interest in language and space. While appeals for interdisciplinary dialogue went largely unheeded during the 20th century, a recent shift in theoretical perspectives and methodological capabilities has revitalized the study of language geography as a truly interdisciplinary field. With the popularity and accessibility of mapping and spatial analysis tools in the contemporary digital age and the growing availability of georeferenced linguistic data and language map data sets, linguistic geography is experiencing a renaissance. Though traditional approaches to language geography remain important to the field, a new body of research is developing that involves sophisticated treatments of both language and geography to understand questions about the development of languages; the relationships between language, society, and environment; and broader human history.

Reference Works

Due to the relative infancy of a unified tradition of linguistic geography and the diversity of motivations and goals in linguistic geography research, no textbooks yet exist that focus specifically on this area of study. There are, however, a growing number of comprehensive edited volumes in this field. One of the earliest reference works to appear on language geography and dynamics is Breton 1991. This short book is now outdated; however, its first section is the closest thing to a textbook that has been written about language geography to date. Williams 1988, an edited volume that arose from the same geolinguistics movement, attempts to situate language geography as a subfield of human geography, with a focus on language in its social and political contexts. More recently, the multivolume handbook Language and Space (Vol. 1, Theories and Methods and Vol. 2, Language Mapping) has brought together a wide range of perspectives and projects in linguistic geography, as well as discussion of the associated methods and cartographic issues. Auer, et al. 2013 provides good perspective on the state of the field, including contributions pertaining to both language in physical space and language in interactional space.

  • Auer, Peter, Martin Hilpert, Anja Stukenbrock, and Benedikt Szmrescanyi, eds. 2013. Space in language and linguistics: Geographical, interactional, and cognitive perspectives. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

    This collection provides a broad coverage of the field, including spatial variation within and across languages, several sections on interactional space, and typology. Though this breadth prevents it from treating any topic in enough depth to serve as a self-contained handbook, it represents one of the most up-to-date and interdisciplinary efforts to bring together work in geographically oriented linguistics.

  • Auer, Peter, and Jürgen Erich Schmidt, eds. 2009. Language and space. Vol. 1, Theories and methods. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    The contributions included in this volume include summaries of analytical traditions in linguistics, the dynamics of language geography within and across languages, data and methodological issues, and illustrative case studies. Language Mapping serves as a companion volume to this work.

  • Breton, Roland J.-L. 1991. Geolinguistics: Language dynamics and ethnolinguistic geography. Ottawa, ON: Univ. of Ottawa Press.

    This reference work on language geography provides an overview of dialectology, language and ethnicity, language dynamics, and very basic methods in language mapping. Part 1 provides a serviceable, if outdated, introduction to the field. Part 2 focuses on national and majority languages, which ignores much of the linguistic diversity that drives current research in the field.

  • Lameli, Alfred, Roland Kehrein, and Stefan Rabanus, eds. 2010. Language and space. Vol. 2, Language mapping. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    This companion volume to Theories and Methods is published in two parts: the first discusses mapping in linguistics, and the second provides maps associated with these discussions. The information contained in this volume provides a very useful introduction to mapping and cartography for the linguist, as well as an introduction to language-specific issues for nonlinguist geographers.

  • Williams, Colin H., ed. 1988. Language in geographic context. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.

    This volume conceives of language geography as a branch of human geography, with all of the associated interdisciplinary extensions. Contributions to this volume discuss language in its social and political contexts, as well as methodological issues related to the study of language geography.

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