The politics and poetics of toponymy, identity and place in multi-lingual areas

A comparative study of Carinthia (Austria) and the Těšín area (Czechia)

Objectives and research questions

This project investigates the role of place names for the relationship between humans and space in two multilingual situations: the Těšín area in Czechia and southern Carinthia in Austria. Both are characterised by a historically rooted social stratification of a dominant (the Czechs in the Těšín area and the German-speakers in Carinthia) and a non-dominant group (the Poles in the Těšín area and Slovenes in Carinthia). Moreover, in both areas place names gave cause to political conflict in recent times. Research questions are:

  • 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 are the multilingual/multiethnic city-text and linguistic landscapes produced, performed, interpreted, and contested?
  • When 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 actually protected?

A combination of research methods are employed, including an analysis of place name usage in both old and 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. 


It is too early to report on definite results as the project is still in the data collection phase.


Jordan, P. (2016), The Meaning of Bi- or Multilingual Naming in Public Space for the Cultural Identity of Linguistic Minorities. In: Nomina Africana. Journal of the Names Society of Southern Africa, 30, 1, S. 27-44.

Jordan, P. (2016), Carinthia – Burgenland. The different historical-cultural backgrounds of two minority situations and their impact on inter-ethnic relations and bilingual place naming. In: Onomàstica, Anuari de la Societat d’Onomàstica, 2, S. 169-181.