Tag Archive | maps

Division, Mapped

How do maps address divided space and occupied territories?

This map was produced by B’Tselem and shows where the separation barrier has been built, has been approved to be built, and where the green line is. Yes, these are three different places. Naturally, the most complicated part of the map is the area around Jerusalem, where lines snake and weave. It’s just as messy on the ground.

I got this map from a lady in a booth right after the passing through the Lidra Street checkpoint to enter North Cyprus. This cartographer solved an awkward problem by simply omitting all detail in the Republic of Cyprus. Here there be dragons.

This is an official tourist map courtesy of the Republic of Cyprus and a Carleton alum who marked it up for me with helpful notes. The area to the north of the Buffer Zone contains some sketches of streets (I wonder if they’re accurate?) but otherwise notes resignedly, “Area under Turkish occupation since 1974.” I wonder if this phenomenon can be partly attributed to the two sides competing for tourist attention? (Maybe they won’t visit if they don’t know what’s over there..) Every map has an argument.

Unsurprisingly, my maps of Belfast never marked the Peace Walls. The Walls do not denote any sort of change in rules for the powers that be, only for the people that live there, so the Walls are not added to maps. Furthermore, it would be an unsightly blemish to wares in the Belfast Tourist Center, where I acquired this booklet. So, it was up to me to look up the locations I needed to visit, and mark them on my guidebook, sometimes with an R or L for Republican or Loyalist, so I could remember which side was which when I visited. My entire collection of maps is marked up with these lines and notes.

I wonder how someone living in these neighborhoods would map their city or world? Sounds like another project…

On Permanence

My latest fascination related to European history and borders is embodied by this video:

There are a couple things that really strike me here:

1. The fluctuation on the British Isles. Scotland, Ireland, and Wales alternate between independence and being sucked up by England’s imperial gravity over the course of the video.

2. The long fragmentation of ‘Germany’, particularly as other nation-states become larger and seemingly more unified around it.

3. The amazing music choice, somehow making 1000 years of European war and conquest more dramatic than it already is.

But these are just minor observations. What I really want to talk about is the last 20 seconds of the video, the last 70 years it represents, and how we understand the permanence of borders.

So go back and watch the last part, starting after World War II where the purple of Nazi Germany is squeezed off the map. After this there is a minor shake-up, and then, calm. For the three-second period that represents the Cold War,nothing changes. This is astonishing after having watched the European map morph unrecognizably for the last three minutes. At 3:16, the Iron Curtain falls, the Soviet Union collapses, and Eastern Europe gets rearranged, while Western Europe remains still. Overall, this 70-year period from World War II to the present day sees significantly fewer fluctuations of borders and territory than almost any other 70-year period throughout the rest of the video.

In the long view, 70 years is not much time, and the medium of the timelapse illustrates this perfectly, giving equal weight to each year as an impartial observer. My lived history, the German division that gets my heart racing and my fingers reaching for the pause button, the Nazi occupation which looks so terrifying on this screen, are all treated equally, as the format cannot understand or accommodate which events resonate with its viewers, which movement of lines and colors changed lives. It is the combination of this equality inflicted by the medium, and the familiarity of the last 70 years by virtue of the human lifespan, which makes this period stand out and demand special consideration.

Europe has become an ‘easy’ place to travel, a summer destination for college students and retirees alike, comfortable, peaceful, and relatively well-off.

It’s easy to forget that this is a new development for a weary continent.

When we learn geography, it’s too often from the perspective of “this is how things are” not “this is how things are…for now.” My lifetime alone has seen the fall of the Soviet Union, the dawn of the European Union, Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty, the construction of the Israeli Separation Barrier, South Sudan’s secession, the rise (and fall?) of the economic borders of the Eurozone. And despite this, I still have an overwhelming, gut reaction to regard current borders as the Alpha and Omega of political geography, because stuff like this feels real:

But my fascination with borders comes from the inevitable yet improbable changes they undergo, physically, mentally, geographically, politically. It’s easy to forget that these changes happen at all when you’re standing at the base of a 30-foot wall. But this timelapse of European borders reminds me that these changes happened both 1000 years ago and in my lifetime, and in all likelihood, they will happen again, for better or worse. Changing borders requires daily work, maybe a watershed moment, but also patience to remember the long view and appreciate the passage of time, because stuff like this is real, too:

 

Language is a Border

Last fall, I posted an article on how you can see the Iron Curtain on a map of Facebook friendships. I just stumbled over a map of Tweets by language, so it’s high time for another analysis of borders using social media.

Here’s a link to the original on Flickr.

Curiosities cartographer Frank Jacobs wrote a short blog post on this map last fall in which he made a few major points.

I. French tweets from Quebec are clustered and not as numerous as one might expect.

II. America is dominated by English, with pockets of other languages while the US/Mexico border is highly visible.

III. Europe is weird: Switzerland is German and French, Catalonia makes an appearance, and Austria has a sizable chunk of Italian.

These are all well and good, so I’d like to make a few points of my own, related to my recent travels in the Middle East, Cyprus, and Ireland/Northern Ireland.

This should look familiar, but just for orientation: red is Turkish, yellow is Greek, green is Hebrew, and Purple is Arabic. The freakiest thing about this map is the clearness with which it shows the Cyprus partition. The shape of the colors corresponds perfectly with the waves of the Buffer Zone, and there is little to no penetration by either side, even though its possible (for most) to cross. Language is one of the biggest factors in the ‘walls in the head’ and this map better explains the division than any political map could.

Let’s move to the east and examine Southwest Asia. The purple shape to the north of Israel is Lebanon, and I believe the straightish, multicolored line running south and east of the green clusters represents tourists at Dead Sea resorts. Now for the interesting bit: you can just make out the kidney bean shape of the West Bank in the middle of the green. It’s faint, but slightly darker with purple smatterings and one more prominent dot (Ramallah?). Israel/Palestine is an example of another language border exacerbating a political divide.

Language is a real border. It can cripple your movement and communication just as effectively as walls and barbed wire; it definitely hampered me during my travels. But I think it’s also surmountable with a little study, respect, and patience. Sometimes, just a few words and willing ears are needed to make a connection, and don’t forget that smiles and laughter are universal.

This Place

Since I got my first map of Nicosia last week, I’ve been fascinated by how Cypriots visually conceive of their cities and country. My map, as well as other representations, usually highlight the division, but also do not show any detail on the other side of the Buffer Zone. It’s blank space, uncharted, unknown, and unimportant. The discourse is everywhere, from official maps to graffiti on the street. I’m working on a series that explores and documents this theme.

What’s in a Name: Linguistic Colonization

Europe in PolishOn my recent trip to Poland, I spent a good deal of time ogling over a map just like the one on the right.

At a glance, it’s just Europe, right?

WRONG.

This map is in Polish, and a lot of the country names are pretty different, if not unrecognizable.

So this got me thinking: why are place names different in different languages?

Wouldn’t it be easier if everyone just used the same names? Think how much easier travel would be if everyone referred to Vienna as Wien. Pronunciation woes erased if Warszawa was just Warsaw.

But thankfully, the world is not so uniform or predictable.

I have a theory about this: when a language has a unique name for place or a country, people who speak said language then have a small stake in the country, a foot in the door, a piece of the nation’s pie, just for them: Linguistic colonization.

Then I started thinking about different languages, different countries and place-names. And I came up with a hypothesis: more influential countries will have a greater variety of names across languages, because a piece of their pie is tastier than less influential countries.

Then, I did an experiment. Download this pdf to follow along: CountryNamebyLanguageshort

Firstly, I’m not a linguist. There’s probably a lot more going on than what I’m observing, so I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, too.

Observations:

1.Generally, the “More Influential Countries” have a wider variety of names. They have an average of 6 significant differences across 7 languages. The “Less Influential Countries” have an average of 3.8 significant differences. (significant difference = change in spelling, not accent placements. Pronunciation plays no role here). Hypothesis proven true.

2.Look at Germany. It has 4 drastically different spellings. Only the United Kingdom and the United States also differed so drastically, and I would posit that these changes can be accounted for by the fact that their names are made up of two independent words: United and States/Kingdom. Is it possible that the roller coaster of German history and its array of incarnations (Prussia, First Reich, Weimar Republic, Third Reich, East/West Germany, United Germany, all within 150 years!) plays a role in the way it is conceptualized and referred to across languages? I think I’m on to something.

3.Honduras, Laos, Liechtenstein, Niger, Uganda boast just 2-3 variations. What’s up with that? Is it because the names just don’t translate in the languages I’m sampling? Can’t be the whole story, Honduras is definitely Spanish and Liechtenstein screams German. Or is it just that these countries aren’t important enough to these languages and their speakers to warrant a linguistic stake in their names?

I’m fascinated by this and I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you’re an actual linguist or a colonialist.

UPDATE:

My friend Andrew, who actually got his BA in Linguistics and is now studying at Oxford, says (via Facebook):

I feel way underqualified to answer this, but it’s so interesting! i know what you mean about random name changes. during the winter olympics in Torino different news networks used Turin (as in the shroud) or Torino. People weren’t sure if it was famous enough to use the English name or not. I think sometimes city name differences have to do with changes in pronunciation. For example, the word Rome 500 years ago would have been pronounced with two syllables by an English speaker, pretty similarly to Roma.

I like your idea about power and naming, but I’m not sure if it’s right. There are historically old names that languages have for neighboring regions, ethnic groups, or countries. It seems like different ones are used for Germany. England goes by Britain or UK and the Netherlands gets subjected to metonymy all the time when it’s called Holland, but that doesn’t have to do with power just history and government. The Chinese names are usually transliterations that get shortened. Deguo is short for Deyizhi (Deutsch) plus guo meaning country. Likewise France usually gets shortened to Faguo. America is the same too. It seems like a better way to divide names up is by language family rather than power, with proximity to the language being a factor.

I’d also say that writing systems mess everything up when moving things into new languages. sometimes people spell things the same way and then they get pronounced different ways in different places. other times, things are spelled so that they are pronounced the same but then they don’t look the same on paper. like i’d say that uganda and Fiji only have one version. although they’re spelled differently, i think that’s just as close as the languages could get either in spelling or in sound while maintaining their native phonemes.

And points interested parties to this book: Off the Map: The Curious History of Place-Names

Thanks, Andrew!

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