“Crossing historical and contemporary boundaries in geography and linguistics” – a linguistic geography session at the RGS Conference

Extract of Georg Wenker’s Linguistic atlas, via Sabine Kaufmann

Philip Jagessar and I are organising a session at the Royal Geographical Society conference this year. It’s rather broad title is “Crossing historical and contemporary boundaries in geography and linguistics” and we hope to attract participants with various backgrounds in geography. If you are interested, please get in touch wih me or Philip before 5 March 2021.


Language has a broad range of meaning to geographers, from a method of everyday communication to an abstract or metaphorical concept. The geographies of translation, speech and critical discussions over the primacy of English have become matters of linguistic interest among geographers in recent years. Despite this, linguistics – the study of language form and context – is understood to be a distinct discipline from geography, only intersecting in very narrow areas of overlapping interest, notably toponymy.

However, this was not always the case. Linguistics and its earlier iteration, philology, were a significant tradition in geography’s history. In the 19th century, geographical societies across Europe were centres of linguistic study with the growth of imperialism proving to be central to the relationship. Philology was not far behind geography as the science of empire. At the turn of the 20th century, the boundaries between disciplines were increasingly blurred as languages were considered a spatial and cultural phenomenon to be studied, within the broader context of language nationalism and growing questions over linguistic states or territories in the interwar period and during decolonisation.  

This session is seeking papers which recover this historical tradition in geography from different perspectives and different regions, exploring the entwined intellectual and methodological histories of geography and linguistics. We are also interested in papers from scholars whose work crosses the boundary between geography and linguistics today, and what that can inform us about the future of an interdisciplinary linguistic geography.

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