First response by MARTIN DODGE, theorist of spatiality and mapping practise at the University of Manchester and co-editor of The Map Reader (2011); second response by GILES GOODLAND, lexicographer and poet (A Spy in the House of Years, 2001, Capital, 2006).
MARTIN DODGE: Word-Geography of Cornwall
An apparently simple map of the toe of England is stamped authoritatively, in capitalised san serif, as BUSSA, intimately conjoined to an elongated zone of KEEVE. Such maps, serving as a commonsense template onto which all manner of thematic information can easily be presented, are part and parcel of research reports and academic papers. The presentation purports to be straightforward, the map as an accurate conveyance of the results from author to reader, typically designed to display some singular overt meaning on spatial distribution and thereby connoting a simple geographical explanation. The familiar, trustworthy cartographic voice speaks to us thus: “as you can clearly see BUSSA covers this area of Cornwall and this is certainly being caused by ….’.
Thematic cartography is a powerful mode of scientific communication for geographical patterns, along with its near cousins, the diagram for spatial processes and the graph for statistical trends. The invention of diagrammatic representations of data is relatively recent in the history of knowledge and some argue it to be one of the underpinnings of the modern world (Bender and Marrinan 2010; for discussion of the evolving capability of such diagrams and thematic maps see Michael Friendly’s ‘Milestones’ project). This avowedly uncomplicated example mapping of lexical data, selected from the 1980 volume Word-Geography of Cornwall by D.J. Northe and A. Sharpe, deploys much of the iconicity of diagrammatic objectivity to enhance truth claims of the real linguistic patterns being brought into being by the act of inscription. The austerity of black and white display, the planar flatness of the presentation and the willingness to employ empty white space, are all subtle declarations of honesty: “see I have nothing to hide”. The evident concentration on the naming numerous places in Cornwall with consistent little labels implies a meticulous attention to detail and believability of the data. The crispness of the wrinkled Cornish coastline, with many inlets and jutting headlands, further connotes conscientiousness of the cartography, but from inspection is clearly also heavy generalised to meet scale rules and highly selective in what places are deemed worthy of naming.
The overall shape of the land works hard to separate the knowable territory of data from the void of Devonshire beyond the border and the endless seas running off to the edges of the display. The county of Cornwall as a meaningful, immutably self-contained spatial unit stands rock like in the nothingness. The solidity, the concreteness, is exaggerated in this case by the distinctive and recognisable coastal outline of Cornwall. The shape is one of the most emblematic elements of the map of the British Isles, which is itself part of the essential national iconography, endless (re)represented to us, a shape so familiar from being sheered into our memories from an early age, a mental cartographic construct of Englishness. In a lot of ways the map is almost blandscape: it only shows what needs to be seen in terms of linguists’ simplified data and is deliberately blind to the complexity of the landscapes of Cornwall that reflect real language diversity.
Mapping what we should see
The cartographer seeks to focus our attention squarely on the six areas overplotted on the supposedly real territory of Cornwall. These are oddly shaped and boldly labelled in words that are English but unusual somehow. Their sinuous contour shapes are intriguing to the eye and start the brain thinking. What might be the reason for the small little CULS bubble and the distinction between zones, such as the drooping loop of TRENDLE and concavity of TRUNDLE…? The patterns being mapped surely imply that something of the underlying process is geographical, perhaps the physical separation of people in the past caused by wide rivers, the effects of elevation, underlying geological conditions, the changing agricultural landscape. Yet from scanning the map it’s not immediately obvious, at least to my eye, what might be really causing the shapes. Why, for example, does KEEVE separate the area of STUG from the CULS? Is this a deep glaciated valley or a dividing ridge line of hills?
Of course, the distribution and shapes of the word zones that superficially appear to be accurately mapped could be largely unrelated in terms of the underlying geography. Their particular lexical pattern might be spurious, not spatially derived from reality but an artefact of the data collection and processing. A different sampling strategy could well have given rise to a very different looking spatial pattern of words. This is a serious issue with the validity of much spatial analysis that is oftentimes exacerbated by plausible looking thematic cartography. It has been termed MAUP, the modifiable area unit problem, which as renowned quantitative geographer Stan Openshaw (1982, 4) noted: “[i]f the areal units or zones are arbitrary and modifiable, then the value of any work based upon them must be in some doubt and may not possess any validity independent of the units which are being studied.” A related technical issue is that spatially interpolating, from a limited number of sample points, to create continuous isolines [like contours for elevation] can be a notoriously subjective process.
The sinuously smooth curves of the isogloss ‘envelopes’, suitably demarked by the solidity of line work, implies a sharp boundary in the data that is often far from true on the ground, which is likely arising from gradual shifts in tone. Cartographic design favours the delineation of spatial certainty and there are quite a number of challenges in effectively conveying uncertainty on maps which readers can usefully interpret. Moreover, the ubiquitous choropleth map design, when deployed conventionally, has many problems with strictly divided zones that can only be assigned to one linguistic class and also generates what has been termed the ecological fallacy. This is the situation where a map encourages the reader to erroneously allot the average value for the zone to all individuals within the zone; so for example in the KEEVE zone everyone would be assumed to use Keeve, and that distribution is equal and universal across the zone, which is very unlikely with most social phenomena. These fundamental weaknesses with choropleth representations were pointed out by cartographic thinkers long ago, including by J.K. Wright in 1936, when he mapped population density in Cape Cod and advocated the alternative dasymetric approach to display social data in a more realistic fashion. Given how widely and unreflectively used thematic mapping has become, typically as adjunct to the main thrust of scholarly analysis, one need to approach default of ‘scientific’ cartographic representations with knowing eyes and sceptical thoughts.
Maps as words
It is also interesting that cartography, as a visual endeavour premised on graphicacy, is often contrasted with textual artefacts created by writing processes using typographic conventions. This is an overly simplistic binary and many maps are often richly textual as well as being graphical. Topographic mapping – a general purpose map of terrain and physical landscape – in particular is a deeply typographic enterprise; just think of the amount and variety of text on an Ordnance Survey Landranger sheet or the density of street names arrayed across the pages of an A-Z atlas. Textual elements on the space of the map itself can have great significance in cartographers’ work communicating information. Text as toponyms is a form of writing in which the spatial position of words has extra meaning through the link of the page position to the geographic location on ground. There are many technical challenges in the placement of text on the maps, along with the difficult objective choices about what features to label within the designated scale of representation – evident in the Word-Geography of Cornwall. (The innate design skills around the aesthetically pleasing text placement have proven particularly hard to replicate in software for mapping.)
Toponymic text on map can also be seen to be full of subjectivity, for example in the ways that social hierarchies are clearly denoted through the chosen script and font size. The spelling of place names itself can be read as a politically-loaded practice, particularly in the colonial conquest where indigenous rights are removed by place renaming, most evident in the cartographic tracing of territory (see Monmonier 2006). Textual absences, a positive lack of the naming of place, can render areas silenced on the map, and demonstrate most clearly how cartographic practice is not an instrumental mirror of territorial truth but is actively constitutive in the ongoing creation of geographical imaginaries. To understand some of the intersections of the textual with the spatial critical cartographers have in the past borrowed ideas from literary theory and sought to read the rhetorical position of the map as a text. As J.B. Harley (1989: 7-8) noted in his seminal paper on critical cartography:
“’Text’ is certainly a better metaphor for maps than the mirror of nature. Maps are a cultural text. By accepting their textuality we are able to embrace a number of different interpretative possibilities. Instead of just the transparency of clarity we can discover the pregnancy of the opaque.”
So perhaps lexicography and cartography are not such distinct ways of knowing the world as they might first appear.
Bender, J. and Marrinan, M. 2010. The Culture of Diagram (University of Stanford Press, Stanford, CA)
Harley, J.B. 1989. Deconstructing the map. Cartographica, 26, 1-20.
Monmonier, M. 2006. From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How maps name, claim, and inflame (University of Chicago Press, Chicago).
Openshaw, S. 1982. The Modifiable Areal Unit Problem; CATMOG 38 (GeoBooks Norwich). Available online here.
Robinson, A.H. 1982. Early Thematic Mapping in the History of Cartography (University of Chicago Press, Chicago).
Wright, J.K. 1936. A method of mapping densities of population: with Cape Cod as an example. Geographical Review 26(1), 103-10.
© 2012 Martin Dodge
GILES GOODLAND: Word Map
A bit of bronze, a battered flint, a broken bussa, a single word or expression,—each carries us back to a period when manners, dress, domestic appliances, and the prevalence of a now forgotten tongue were scattered up and down our land. I were down along to cozen Zaccy’s laast ‘count day of our Bal, and had as fitty a pear of ploffy mabyers as one wed wish to put a knife en, and a thoomping figgy pudden, with a little coostom after. Cozen Nic’s Gracey met with a misforten, for she thraw’d over a cloam buzza of scaal cream on the planchen, and scat en all to midjens and jowds, and crazed a squeer. A scrovey great bussa. Thecky owld Pot edn’t no valley ‘toal, ‘tes nort but a owld Bussa what my man berried en tha taty-plat for to taake ‘way tha smill ov pilchurs out ov un. Nonsense, my good wumman, says tha Passun, theere’s Latten sure ’nuff, says Un Polly, an’ that’s owld Zack’s work too, that es! waun day thecky murrick seed un ‘pon tha taable, an’ cut some letters ‘pon un ’cause he’s a braavish schollard, he es. Stop, Mrs. Polglaaze, says Passun, I’ve a got a little picture ov the Pot, an’ tha descripshun put ento English. Put ento English says un Polly, why ‘twor English what our booay wrote ‘pon un, he shawed et to me an’ faather. Passun showed her tha picture an’ raid et down to her, but she stopped un oal to waunce an’ said, Aw, Sur! much larnin’ ‘ave maade ‘ee maazed—’tes nort but thes—lev me raid ut to yer Honor. IT IS JAM POT IT IS. Why a scatt all to midjans and jouds for the nons, A cloam buzza of scale milk about on the scons.
An ale of a similar nature goes in Cornwall by the rather uneuphonious title of Laboragol. A physician, a native of that place, informed him that the preparation was made of malt almost burnt in an iron pot, mixed with some of the barm which rises on the first working in the keeve, a small quantity of which invigorates the whole mass and makes it very heady. Machinery for the Preparation of Tin, Copper, and Lead Ores: Jigging-Machines, Cornish Stamps, Husband’s Pneumatic Stamps, Buddies, Kieves, Calciners, Sluice Frames, Pulverizers, Copper-ore Dressers, the Frue Vanner. St. Nighton’s or St. Nectan’s Kieve is a secluded waterfall, not particularly easy to reach. The chief cascade falls about 40 ft. into a circular basin of rock, the kieve as the Cornish call it. Legend says that St. Nectan had an oratory here, and that when dying he threw the silver bell of his chapel into the waterfall. There is also a tale of two sisters, foreigners, who came to live on the site of his cell. No one knew who they were; they lived and died unknown. Hawker wrote a poem on the subject, in which, with his customary loose archaeology, he gives St. Neot’s name to the spot instead of St. Nectan’s. All trace of the buried treasure was lost, until discovered by the men who were engaged in enlarging the potato-bury, potato-camp, potato-cave, potato-clamp, potato-grave, potato-hale, potato-heap, potato-hog, potato- hole, potato-pie, potato-pile, potato-pit, potato-stack, potato-tump.
A shallow wooden tub for butter, milk, or whey. Used for cooling beer. A brewer’s cooler. A circular trough or tray in which bakers mix their dough. I walked on and seed a clock with a face as big as a baking trendle. A large wooden vessel for milk used at milking-time. A brewer’s cooler. Used chiefly for scalding pigs. A large, shallow, oval tub, made of wood or earthenware, and used for many purposes, chiefly for curing bacon. In common use. The oval tub in which a pig is ‘scalded’ is always called a trendle. A clock with a face as big as a baking-trendle. A circular earthwork. Chisenbury Camp, or Trendle, as it is vulgarly called. The term Trendle is applied to circular earthen works. A large oval tub some five to six feet in its greater axis, used for many purposes, but chiefly for scalding pigs. Vats, tubs, trundles, ladders, poles. Here the old custom of employing sworn and licensed winders is diligently adhered to, and they are engaged to strip off the coarse part of the fleece, and to wind up only the better kind of wool; to tie about half a dozen fleeces together, and to ticket the weight of each bundle, or as it is there called a trendle.
A circular object; specif. : a A wheel, esp. of a wheelbarrow. b A kind of large wooden tub, a thing made and set on low wheels to draw heavy burdens on. Sheep-dung; anything globular. It had a toothed sector on the end of the working-beam, working into a trundle which, by means of two pinions. The suite has a king-sized bed, a sitting area with TV/VCR, a trundle bed, and two baths, one with a Jacuzzi tub. The pen-knife when ground, is worked on a trundle or glazier, which is a wooden wheel about four feet in diameter and two inches, commonly employed to describe portable grinding slabs such as those found at Gwernvale, Etton and The Trundle (i, e. the round hill, a very large British earthwork in the same neighbourhood); medium-rise blocks were surrounded by a one-way motorway system and the trundle of efficient trams.
Stuke, stunt, sturdy, stutter, stug (a vulgar word.) The same word is Cornish also for a milk-pail. A coarse brown earthenware pan of an oval form is called a stugg. This last word is also commonly used. Near Crotern walls, and by the quarry, Us cumm’d right up beside Tresmarry, And just a stugg’d was we ; By Orange Grove, still in the borough, In the town place as we cum thorough, The dairy pans we see. Hanging out on the upper side like the stug or thrumb mats, which we sometimes see lying in a passage. A German machinegun team with a Stug III nearby. Deployed primarily in infantry formations, it was based on the Panzer III chassis and buglehorn stringed and garnished or and in base a stug’s head couped. A stug at gaze in a holly bush (a stag’s head erased is sometimes used). In the panel immediately in front is a group of three stugs. The panel adjoining the inscription bears a representation of St. Michael protecting them from the ravages of stugs and other infects.
Clap a carle on the culs and he’ll shit in your loof. He had wanted to be away from little places, the narrow places of his past, from funny little culs-de-sac with cold culs : assortiment de charcuteries. Poeme en quatre chants, large paper, plates, vignettes and culs de lampe after Eisen, old calf, a Cornish Man, in the Flying Island, etc., by RS, a Passenger in the Hector. All are interspersed with quaint culs and numerous 16th century MS. notes. The conveying it to the different “winzes” or communicating shafts, and the “fast-ends” or culs de sac.
© 2012 Giles Goodland