In this research, we analyze the politics of toponymy, identity and landscape in two multilingual areas – the Těšín area in Czechia and southern Carinthia in Austria. Both areas share several characteristics, and thus a close cooperation between Czech and Austrian researchers seemed to be highly advantageous. The Carinthian minority situation resembles the situation in the Těšín area in having later been overlayed by national identities, in suffering from not too distant historical burdens, by the fact that place names in actual use frequently deviate from standardized names or names in the two standard languages and as regards political conflict on place names in recent times.
Principal research questions have been:
- What do place names mean for the identity of human communities in general and more specifically for linguistic minorities? What is the relationship between language, place and identity and how do we make ourselves at home through place names?
- What toponymic strategies have been employed by different actors in establishing, maintaining, and subverting ethnic/national boundaries and what are the principal social forces structuring the contemporary toponymic landscape and everyday toponymic practice?
- How is the multilingual linguistic landscape produced, performed, interpreted, and contested?
- When do we speak of minority rights and cultural preservation, what role do place names play in this discussion? Why, how, by what means and procedures, by whom and for whom should place names be protected?
Major answers provided by this study are:
- Place-name conflicts in bilingual areas are – as place-name conflicts in general – the symbolic surface of deeper societal problems.
- Place names play essential roles in mediating humans and geographical space and are in this respect specifically important for linguistic minorities.
- Minority place names on maps are politically more sensitive than minority names in public space.
- The Third Austrian Military Survey towards the end of the 19th century represents the all-time climax of minority-friendly place-name rendering on official topographical maps in both study areas.
- Industrialization, tourism and suburbanization have a detrimental impact on cultural minorities and in consequence also on the preservation of their place names.
- Minority names in the linguistic landscape have a special symbolic charging and concentrate therefore on symbolic sites like centers of populated places, places of worship or representative buildings.
- Neither the local majority nor the local minority regard minority names in public space as an asset for tourism.
- Official signposts with names of populated places in front of them are (in Carinthia: were) the most frequent targets of vandalization.
- The main promoters of minority names in public space are public authorities, while private initiatives – even from the minority – remain rare.
- Interest and distinct positive or negative attitudes in or opposite minority names in public space correlate with higher education and higher age.
- In historically burdened situations it is difficult to speak with persons directly involved soberly about cultural characteristics and identity.
- While dialect use by the minority is declining in Carinthia and substituted by the Slovenian standard language as an identity marker, the local dialect is the main identity marker of the minority in the Těšín area.
- While dialect names are very much in use in the spoken language, right the people using them don’t want to see them standardized and represented in public space.
- Strong regional, historical-cultural space-related identities have the potential of mitigating (antagonistic) ethnic and national identities.
A combination of research methods have been employed, i.e. analysis of place-name usage on old as well as on current maps, content and discourse analysis of the linguistic landscape and city-text with a particular focus on place names as well as interviews and questionnaires focused on the knowledge and variant preferences of place names in selected villages in the two regions.