The Meanings of the Generic Parts of Toponyms: Use and Limitations of Gazetteers in Studies of Landscape Terms

  • Curdin Derungs
  • Flurina Wartmann
  • Ross S. Purves
  • David M. Mark
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 8116)


Are the contents of toponyms meaningless, as it is often claimed in linguistic literature, or can the generic parts in toponyms, such as hill in Black Hill, be used to infer landscape descriptions? We investigate this question by, firstly, linking gazetteer data with topographic characteristics, and, secondly, by conducting analysis of how the use of landscape terms might have changed over time in a historic corpus. We thus aim at answering a linguistic, and ethnophysiographic, research question through digital input data and processing. Our study area is Switzerland and our main focus is on geographic eminences, and in particular on the use of the terms Spitze, Horn and Berg. We show that most prominent generic parts in toponyms show expected topographic characteristics. However, not all generic parts strictly follow this rule, as in the case of Berg. Some generic parts have lost their meaning in standard language over time (e.g. Horn). We therefore put a cautionary note on the use of generic parts in toponyms in landscape studies, but point out that the subtle details of these differences provide rich topics for future research.


toponyms proper names generic parts landscape terms GIR ethnophysiography gazetteers 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Curdin Derungs
    • 1
  • Flurina Wartmann
    • 1
  • Ross S. Purves
    • 1
  • David M. Mark
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Geocomputation Unit, Geographic InstituteUniversity of ZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity at BuffaloUSA
  3. 3.National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA)University at BuffaloUSA

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