CHAPTER 8            CHAPTER 9            CHAPTER 10


Culture: The sum total of the knowledge, attitudes, and habitual behavior patterns shared and transmitted by the members of a society.  (Ralph Linton’s def’n)
Traits and Complexes:  Culture traits are one single aspect of many — however complex — elements, practices, and ideas, which make up the behaviors of a particular culture group. A culture complex, then, is the combination of several traits, which are characteristic to that particular group. Geographers in the past have studied the diffusion and adaptation processes that characterize the growth of one culture trait such as speaking English, or they looked at the diffusion of a culture complex such as industrialization.
Diffusion: The spread of cultural elements over space and through time. Geographers have developed a variety of models to predict diffusion. We classify diffusions as expansion or relocation and hierarchical or contagious. Diffusion can be illustrated through the example of information moving through groups. In hierarchical diffusion, individuals acquire information according to their rank. They learn from a subordinate or a superordinate, not necessarily from someone close to them. In contagious diffusion, information moves to the nearest recipient, such as a near neighbor. The difference between expansion and relocation can also be thought of in terms of movement of information. In expansion diffusion, the number of individuals who know a particular piece of information increases. In relocation diffusion, information moves along with the people who know it. It may spread over space as these people move, but while the information now occupies a larger area, the same number of people know the information.
Acculturation:  The process through which a culture is modified by borrowing elements/traits or complexes from another group. An important discussion in geography is how the culture of indigenous populations changes or is influenced by expanding industrialization.
Cultural Regions and Realms: For many years, geography's major contribution to the study of culture was the concept or analysis of cultural regions. These regions are defined as areas within which a particular cultural system prevails. The region is marked by all the attributes of a culture including all the material manifestations, such as building styles, and cultural behaviors, like languages, that go into making up a particular culture. Cultural regions occur at several scales — from very small to very large. The largest of the cultural regions have been termed cultural realms. These are the most highly generalized regions of culture in geography and are best seen on a world map. Sub-Saharan Africa
, for example, is a cultural realm. Movement of groups of people around the world has influenced the location and existence of various cultural regions. We can expect changes future changes in present-day cultural regions.


Language is defined as a systematic way of communicating ideas and feelings with the use of conventional signs and gestures, especially voice. Language is the essence of culture. The degree of attachment individuals have with their native languages is very strong. Without language, culture could not be transmitted from one generation to another. Many cultures in the past existed without written language. They could transmit their culture from one generation to another, but they did not have a foundation for cultural preservation for longer than one generation.

Obviously, a human geography course cannot make students experts in the geography of language or linguistics. Therefore, the course must be structured to give sufficient coverage to the key geographical elements of the geography of language so that students are comfortable making generalizations about the relationship between language and place.

1.                    The course outline should follow a structure that introduces the definitions of language, such as standard language and dialect, and gives students an understanding of the major classification systems for languages.

§                     Students should understand the major language families of the world and where they can be found.

§                     They should know some of the details of the emergence and spread of the English language as a lingua franca of the world today.

§                     It is important for them to understand the complexity of how the language works.

§                     The question of dialect versus language is one linguists focus on and it is important for geography as well, particularly when we think about the Chinese language.

A map of such a distribution is found in world atlases such as Goodes or DeBlij's textbook. The map shows that there are several dialects of Chinese which are mutually unintelligible. Some argue that Chinese is not one language but several languages, the way Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish are classified. The main difference in the dialects is the percentage of speakers. Mandarin is dominant with 700 million speakers. Wu Chinese has 100 million and Yue or Cantonese has about 70 million.

2.                    The focus of this part of the geography course should be on the processes of diffusion, the hearths where languages were thought to have originated, and the various techniques that brought languages to all parts of the world. The diffusion of languages is a topic that has fascinated cultural geographers for at least 150 years. The diffusion of Indo-European languages is widely discussed in geography books. There are two explanations and two proposed homelands for the original speakers of Indo-European. The conquest theory argues the language spread from a core the south of the Caucasus around the southern Caspian Sea into Iran and India , and circled to the north and east of the Caspian Sea into Europe . In this theory Indo-Europeans would have spread their language through military conquest. The other theory, the so-called agriculture theory, argues that the language originated in Anatolia (west of the conquest theory site) and diffused directly westward through modern day Turkey , across the Aegean into the Balkans, to Italy , and northward across the plains of Europe into Scandinavia and the British Isles . The details and subtleties of the theories, however, are far beyond the scope of this geography course.

3.                    The third section of the language unit should concentrate on the present day forces that are promoting language change. The major focus has been the need for trade. Over the years lingua francas, or languages that have served as common forms of communication between a variety of language speakers, have been very important. Today English is the primary lingua franca of commerce and science around the world.

Cultural geography and political geography are linked through the concept of multilingualism and the impact language has on the concepts of nation and national identity.  There are some states, which are monolingual, but they are rare. They include Japan in Asia , Uruguay in Latin America , and in Europe , a few cases such as Iceland , Portugal , and Poland . Most states are multilingual.

Some states have adopted official languages. These official languages are commonly the language of the colonial power that was active in an area. For example, Portuguese is the official language of Angola , English is the language of Nigeria and Ghana , and French is the language of Coitedevre. This expedient solution enables people of different languages to communicate with each other and maintain their own language. This avoids the situation where the language of one indigenous is forced upon other groups within the state.

Toponymy, the study of place names, is a traditional theme in geography. Place names are particularly important in cultural identities of groups and large populations. They also tell us about the history of places. In recent times, the issue of place names has become a lot more volatile with the birth of newly independent nation-states where standard Europeanized place names are being questioned.



- Between 5,000-6,000 languages

- Preliterate societies – no written language

- Language: A systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, gestures, marks, or especially articulate vocal sounds (vocalization). 

- Languages are not static, but change continuously.

- Standard language: The language quality of a country’s dominant language that is preferred by the elite and/or the state (e.g. France : French spoken in and around Paris – became official)

- Dialects – differences in vocabulary, syntax (the way words are put together to form phrases), pronunciation, cadence (the rhythm of speech), and even the pace of speech

- Isoglosses – geographic boundary within which a particular linguistic feature occurs, move over time  (e.g. Soda, Pop)

Major Languages

-          Language families – have a shared, but fairly distant origin (e.g. Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan)

-          Language subfamilies – commonality is more definite (e.g. Germanic, Romance)

o        Germanic: English, German, Danish, Norwegian & Swedish

o        Romance: French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese

o        Slavic: Russian, Polish, Czech, …

o        Celtic: Welsh, Gaelic,…

-          Language groups – consist of sets of individual languages

-          English is most spread, Chinese is most spoken (Mandarin: ~700 million


   I.      Introduction

           A.    Language is at the heart of culture

                    1.     Without language, culture could not be transmitted

2.        Cultures of all sizes fiercely protect their language.  In 1975, France banned the use of foreign words in advertisements, television and radio broadcasts, and official documents.

3.        Preliterate societies–those without a written language–do not accrue a time-spanning literature to serve as a foundation for ethnic preservation

4.        Linguists estimate between 5,000 and 6,000 languages are in use today.

5.        Research is reconstructing the paths of linguistic diversification and throwing new light on ancient migrations

  II.      Defining language

           A.    Language–A systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, gestures, marks, or especially articulate vocal sounds

                    1.     Vocalization is the crucial part of the definition

2.        Animals use symbolic calls, but only humans have developed complex vocal communication systems

3.        Potential vocabulary of any language in infinite.       Languages change continuously

           B.     Standard language

1.        Sets the quality, which is a matter of cultural identity and national concern

2.        May be sustained by official state examination of teachers, officials, etc.

3.        People with regional influence and power decide what the standard language will be (e.g. China )

           C.     Dialects

                    1.     Variants of the standard language

                    2.     An isogloss is a transition zone surrounding a particular linguistic feature (Figure 8-1)

 III.     Classification and distribution

           A.    Classification

1.        Language vs. dialect

2.        Most linguistic geographers recognize more than 600 discrete languages in India , and more than 1,000 in Africa

3.        Language families are thought to have a shared, but fairly distant origin

4.        In language subfamilies their commonality is more definite

5.        Subfamilies are divided into language groups that consist of sets of individual languages

Language Family



Americas , Europe , Southwest Asia , Australia , South Africa


China , Southeast Asia


Japan , Korea


North Africa , Arabian Peninsula




Indonesia , Malaysia , Philippines , Madagascar


Russia , Northern Asia , Finland , Turkey


Subsaharan Africa

American Indian

South America , Meso-America, Northern America


           B.     Distribution

                    1.     Spatially, the Indo-European language is the world's most widely dispersed

                    2.     Indo-European languages are spoken by about half the world's population

 IV. The major world languages

           A.    Introduction

                    1.     Chinese spoken by more people than any other language (Table 8-1)

                    2.     English ranks second; it is also a second language of hundreds of millions

                    3.     Sub-Saharan African languages are not major languages because of fragmentation

                            (Figure 8-2)

           B.     Languages of Europe (Figure 8-3)

                    1.     Indo-European language prevails

                    2.     Linguistic and political maps show high correlation between languages spoken and political

                            organization of space; Eastern boundaries of Germany coincide almost exactly with the transition

                            from Germanic to Slavic tongues; believed Ural-Altaic languages spread into Europe between 7,000

                            and 10,000 years ago

           C.     Languages of India (Figure 8-4)

                    1.     Four language families; only the Indo-European and Dravidian families have significant numbers

                            of speakers

                    2.     Dravidian languages are clustered, and there is no certainty about their origin

                    3.     Close relationship between regional languages and political divisions

                    4.     Hindi is the principal Indo-European language with about 300 million speakers

                    5.     The Indian language mosaic is not as intensely fragmented as the African

           D.    Languages of Africa

                    1.     Most are unwritten

                    2.     Grouped into four families (Figure 8-5); largest is the Niger-Congo family

                    3.     If people of a large region speak languages that are somewhat different but still closely related, it is

                            reasonable to conclude they migrated into that region relatively recently

           E.     Chinese: One language or many? (Figure 8-6)

                    1.     Spoken by the greatest contiguous population cluster on Earth

                    2.     Divided by dialects that are mutually unintelligible; Mandarin (about 700 million speakers); Wu

                            Chinese (100 million); Yue (Cantonese- 70 million)

                    3.     Some scholars argue that Chinese is not one but several languages

                    4.     Several efforts have been made to create a truly national language 



I.          Tracing linguistic diversification

             A.    Diffusion of languages

                     1.     Long been charted through the analysis of sound shifts

                     2.     Backward reconstruction of languages is called deep reconstruction

                     3.     Find some vocabulary of an extinct language and try to go backward

                     4.     William Jones - ancient Sanskrit bore a striking resemblance to ancient Greek and Latin (>200 yrs. ago)

4.        Jacob Grimm - related languages have similar, but not identical consonants

5.        From Jones and Grimm - linguistic hypothesis that postulated the existence of an ancestral (Proto) Indo-European language

                     7.     This concept had major implications that created major research tasks

                              a)     The vocabulary of the postulated source language must be reconstructed

                              b)     The hearth or source of this language from which it spread must be located

c)        The routes of diffusion should be traced

d)       The ways of life of those who spoke and spread this language should be established

 II.        The language tree (Figure 8-2)

A.     Divergence

                     1.     Differentiation in language over time and space

2.        Languages branched into dialects, which became isolated and then became discrete langu

B.     Convergence

                     1.     Human mobility complicates language study

                     2.     Languages also spread by relocation diffusion

                     3.     Long-isolated languages making contact–language convergence

             C.     Replacement

                     1.     Defined–replacement or modification of language by stronger invaders of a less                                         advanced people

                     2.     No reason to believe it has not happened ever since humans began to use language

3.        Hungarian - surrounded by Indo-European languages; what Proto-language gave rise to the Basque language is unknown

 III.       Theories of language diffusion

             A.    Roots - Proto-language had words for certain landforms and other features of the landscape (e.g. vegetation–trees, grass, etc.); helps indicate the environment in which a language may have developed

             B.     Conquest theory

1          Proto-Indo-European language originated somewhere north of the Black Sea in the vast steppes of Ukraine and Russia

2          The language then spread west judging by the sound shifts

                     3.     More than 5000 years ago, these people used horses, developed the wheel, and traded widely

             C.     Agriculture theory

1.        Spread of agriculture, not conquest, diffused the Proto-Indo-European language through Europe

a)                Postulated the source area as the hilly and mountainous terrain Anatolia in Turkey

b)                Proto-Indo-European language has few words for plains but many for high and low mountains, valleys, mountain streams, rapids, lakes, and other high-relief landforms

c)                Language also has words for trees, and animals that never lived on the plains

d)               The realm's leading hearth of agricultural innovation lay in nearby Mesopotamia

                     2.     Support for the Agriculture theory

                              a)     Research proved the existence of distance decay in the geographic pattern

(1)          Certain genes become steadily less common as one moves north and west

(2)          Farming in Anatolia led to overpopulation, which led to outmigration; migrated in a slow moving wave into Europe

                              b)     Non-farming societies held out, and their languages remained unchanged

                              c)     Some geographers prefer the Soviet dispersal hypothesis (Figure 22-2)

                     3.     Drawbacks of the theory

                              a)     Anatolian region is not ideal for farming

                              b)     Some believe the proto language(s) was first carried eastward into Southwest Asia , then across the Russian-Ukrainian plains and on into the Balkans (Figure 9-2)

                              c)     May be some truth in both hypotheses

                              d)     An eastward diffusion must have occurred because of relationships between Sanskrit and ancient Latin and Greek

   IV.    Superfamily

             A.    Nostratic

1.        Language development and divergence have been occurring for 90,000 or more years (Figure 9-4)

2.        Renfrew proposed three agricultural hearths gave rise to language families (Figure 9-5)

                     3.     Russian scholars have long been in the forefront of research on ancient languages; Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Aharon Dolgopolsky studied independently of each other, came to similar conclusions, established the core of a pre-Proto-European language named Nostratic

                     4.     Nostratic vocabulary revealed much about the people speaking it; no names for domestic plants; hunters and gatherers, not farmers

                     5.     May date back 14,000 years ago; believed to be the ancestral language for many other languages

                     6.     Nostratic links widely separated languages

                     7.     Some scholars have suggested that Nostratic is a direct successor of a Proto-World Language that goes back to the dawn of human history

 V.        Diffusion to the Pacific and the Americas

             A.    Pacific diffusion - much remains to be learned

1.       Diffusion originated from coastal China ; Austronesian language arose in Asia

2.          Malay-Polynesian–forerunner of a large number of languages

3.       Speed of diffusion and simultaneous divergence of languages is remarkable considering the water-fragmented nature of the Pacific realm

4.       The whole eastern region of Polynesia was settled within several centuries (Figure 9-6)

             B.     Diffusion in the Americas

1.        The Americas are dominated by Indo-European languages

2.        Pre-Columbian populations (40 million at the highest speculation)

3.        As many as 200 indigenous language families have been identified

4.        Appears first American languages diverged into the most intricately divided branch of language tree–if one accepts the Bering land-bridge hypothesis

5.        The Greenberg hypothesis

a)        Only three families of indigenous American languages

b)        Each corresponds to a major wave of migration from Asia (Figure 9-7)

c)        Amerind, the superfamily, is the most widely distributed

d)       Na-Dene, spoken by indigenous people in northwest Canada and part of Alaska

e)        Eskimo-Aleut is still concentrated along Arctic and near-Arctic shores

f)         May mean the first wave came across the Bering Strait more than 40,000 years ago

                     6.     The continuing controversy

                              a)     Most linguists still doubt the three-wave notion

                              b)     There still remain many gaps in our knowledge

VI.       Influences on individual languages

             A.    Critical influences on diffusion of individual tongues

1.        Speakers of non-written languages will not retain the same language very long if contact with one another is lost

2.        Three critical components have influenced the world's linguistic mosaic

a)        Writing–texts - primary means by which language can become stabilized

b)        Technology–influences both production of written texts and interaction of distant peoples

c)        Political organization–key because it affects both what people have access to and which areas are in close contact with one another

             B.     Printing press and rise of national states

                     1.     Printing press

                              a)     Invented in 1588, in Germany ; allowed for unprecedented production of texts

                              b)     Luther Bible for German and King James Bible for English

                     2.     Rise of national states

                              a)     Had a strong interest in creating a more integrated state territory

                              b)     Brought people together and exposed them to common linguistic influences

                              c)     Established networks of communication and interaction



   I.       Introduction

            A.    Changing cultural composition in the United States

1.        In little more than a decade from now Hispanics, not Afro-Americans, will be the largest minority in the United States

2.        Growing demand that Spanish become the country's second language

                     3.     Regional concentrations of Hispanics in south, southwestern, and western states

                     4.     Language issue has divided the Hispanic communities themselves, in 1990, a national Hispanic policy organization published a study result than well over half of Hispanics are functionally illiterate in English, Educational attainment was declining compared to the national average

II.        Language and culture

            A.    English has become the medium of international communication, especially in business

            B.     Some countries have made English (or another foreign language) their official language

                     1.     Provokes charges of neocolonialism

                     2.     Emotional attachment to language is a practical issue

III.       Language and trade

            A.    The Esperanto experiment

                     1.     An effort to create a world language during the early twentieth century

                     2.     Europeans were becoming more multilingual

3.        Lacked practical utility; too closely related to Indo-European languages, did not work

            B.     Lingua franca

                     1.     Created by traders in the Mediterranean Sea and its trading ports, a mixture of Frankish, Italian, Greek, Spanish, and Arabic

                     3.     A product of linguistic convergence

                     4.     Swahili has become the lingua franca of East Africa

            C.     Creolization

                     1.     Pidgin–a language modified and simplified through contact with other languages

                             a)     Common in the Caribbean region

                             b)     English and African languages combined to form a pidgin English

                     2.     May sometimes become a mother tongue

                             a)     The process is known as Creolization

                             b)     Pidgin becomes a lingua franca

                     3.     Sometimes difficult to distinguish between a dialect and a pidgin or creole language

 IV.      Multilingualism

            A.    Only a few true monolingual states left in the modern world

                     1.     Include Japan , Uruguay , Venezuela , Iceland , Portugal , Poland , and Lesotho

a)        Even these countries have small numbers of people who speak other languages

b)        Japan has more than a half-million Koreans

                     2.     Multilingual statescountries in which more than one language is spoken

                     3.     In some states linguistic fragmentation reflects strong cultural pluralism

                             a)     Can be a divisive force

                      b)   Especially true in former colonial countries, also true in the Americas (Figure 10-2)

                     4.     Multilingualism takes several forms

                             a)     Can have regional expression, Switzerland (Figure 10-3), Indigenous American tongues are still spoken in the Andean mountains of Peru

                             b)     Considerable interdigitation of the speakers of different languages has developed, spatial interlocking of languages in South Africa , Russia 's wanting the Russian language to become the lingua franca

            B.     Canada

                     1.     The modern state is a combination of a large French-speaking territory with an even larger English-speaking area

                     2.     French speaking Quebec was given guarantees in 1867, French civil code was sustained, French language was protected in parliament and in the courts

                     3.     Is still a divided society with language at the heart of the division

            C.     Belgium

1.        Divided into Dutch-speaking region in the north and French-speaking region in the south (Figure 10-6)

2.        Capital of Belgium is officially bilingual, but the majority speak French

3.        Language regions tend to foster regionalism

            D.    Nigeria

                     1.     A colonial creation of almost unimaginable linguistic diversity

                     2.     Three major regional languages

                     3.     Another 230 lesser but established tongues (Figure 10-7)

                     4.     Decided to adopt English as its "official" language

  V.      Official languages

            A.    Serve different purposes

1.         Used in the hopes of enhancing internal communication and interaction among peoples who speak diverse traditional languages

2.         Many former African colonies have adopted the language of their former colonial powers (Table 10-1)

                     3.     Creating an official language has caused problems for some countries

4.        When Hindi was given official status in India , riots and disorder broke out in non-Hindi areas

5.        The United States has never proclaimed an official language

 VI.      Toponomy

            A.    The systematic study of place names

                     1.     National origins of the people

                     2.     Language and dialect

                     3.     Routes of diffusion

                     4.     History

            B.     Two part names

                     1.     Many place names consist of two parts

                             a)     A specific or given part

                             b)     Generic or classifying part

                             c)     The two parts may be connected or separate

                     2.     Generic names can sometimes be linked to each of three source areas of United States ' dialects and their westward diffusion

            C.     Classification of place names

                     1.     Historian George Stewart classified place names into ten categories

a)       Descriptive, Associative, Incident, Possessive, Commendatory, Commemorative, Folk-etymology, Manufactured, Mistake

b)       So-called Shift names–relocated names, double names for the same feature

                     2.     Each category contains cultural-geographic evidence

            D.    Changing place names

1.        Place names can elicit strong passions

2.        African countries changed their names after becoming independent of the colonial powers

3.        Name changes occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union

a)        Thousands of places were renamed–sometimes to their Czarist-era appellations

b)        Reformers, nationalists, and unreformed communists argued bitterly over the changes

4.        Professional story teller in an African village is not just a picturesque figure; his tales contain history and psyche of his people

                     5.     Language can reveal much about the way people view reality

                     6.     Language and religion are two cornerstones of culture