Get to know DIAUMA

Project description DIAUMA (Digitizing Austrian Dialect Maps)

Digitalization project: Österreichische Dialektkartographie 1924-1956. Digitalisierung, Kontextualisierung, Visualisierung.

Funding programme: Go!Digital 2.0
Project number.: GD 2016/24

The main goal of this project is the digitalization of historical language- and dialect maps of the central-European area between the years 1924-1956, as well as the collection of historical information about those maps within a database. This historical information will become the basis for a critical description, i.e. a historical contextualization of the material. As such, the database will contain information on the editor, designer, publisher, institutional background, and year of creation of each map, along with other pertinent data. This information will combine with scans of the maps to form data visualizations, which the project will make available online for free viewing.

A linguistic map, in short, is a representation of a geographical space which is enriched with information about language use within said space. The linguistic data is usually collected through direct local recordings or questionnaires answered by residents of a given area; then, it is drawn onto the corresponding area on the map. Many linguistic maps represent national languages, but it is also possible to examine and represent dialects.

The practice of creating linguistic maps – linguistic cartography – falls within the scientific field of linguistic geography, which itself draws upon, as might be expected, the fields of geography and linguistics. Linguistic geography also maintains strong ties with cultural geography; language is an integral part of human culture, and as such, cultural geographers have often been led to consider language in their research.

Linguistic geography has its roots in the late 19th century, when linguists conceived the idea of distributing language surveys and projecting the data collected from them onto maps. These initial studies, which took the Sprachatlas des deutschen Reiches (‘Language Atlas of the German Realm’) of Marburg as their common model, were concerned not only with discrete languages, such as German or Czech, but also with different dialects, such as the German dialects in Germany and Austria. The Austrian Academy of Sciences itself contributed several early linguistic maps; the so-called Wiener Dialektologische Schule (‘Viennese Dialectological School’), whose main objective was to collect data for a dialect dictionary of the Bavarian dialects in Austria, began producing linguistic maps in the 1920s.

From a modern and critical point of view, it becomes clear that, when mapping space and language, specific political concepts inevitably come into play. In the case of German dialectology – the discipline which researches German dialects – in the first half of the 20th century, those concepts were German nationalism, German imperialism, and National Socialism. This fact is evident throughout the present project: political and ideological views on what Germanity is supposed to be are actually very important for the mapping process. The nationalistic idea about a German supremacy within and over Europe, as well as strong efforts of territorial expansion during the time of National Socialism and the Second World War, becomes visible when examining the mapping of language. While not every linguistic map of the period was, in itself, ideological, every political or territorial expansion had a geographical impact that could be represented on a map.

Engaging with these linguistic maps also demonstrates that, when so dynamic a phenomenon as language is treated in a territorial sense—that is, illustrated on a map—, that treatment has a very misleading effect on the viewer. The stasis and rigidity suggested by linguistic maps precludes them from giving an accurate representation of language; in terms of that objective, thus, a linguistic map may be viewed as a contradictory, even futile, work. However, a linguistic map also lends insight through its contradictions, revealing to viewers the spatial, historical, sociopoltical, and linguistic ideologies employed in its creation.

The project Österreichische Dialektkartographie 1924-1956. Digitalisierung, Kontextualisierung, Visualisierung is a cooperation project with „Wörterbuchs bairischer Mundarten in Österreich“ (WBÖ) at the institute „Variation und Wandel des Deutschen in Österreich“ (VaWADiÖ) and is also a satellite project of the special research branch „Deutsch in Österreich“ (University of Vienna, University of Graz, University of Salzburg, ÖAW).

Document about the linguistic map selection: PDF (German) by Jan David Zimmermann.