Peter Jordan / Paul Woodman (eds.)
The Quest for Definitions
Proceedings of the 14th UNGEGN Working Group on Exonyms Meeting, Corfu, 23–25 May 2013
– in englischer Sprache –
Hamburg 2014, 302 Seiten
Why is it that the topic of exonyms, and more precisely the endonym / exonym divide, attracts so much interest and is so much disputed? It is perhaps because this divide arises when a geographical name is considered within the relationship between a name-using community and the feature bearing this name – is the feature marked by the name »ours’ or theirs’«
This is a highly political, sociological and cultural-geographical issue which also has juridical implications and is frequently loaded with emotion, since from this perspective place names are symbols of space-related personal and group identities. It is much more emotive than other aspects of toponymy, such as the type of feature a name indicates or what its etymological origin might be.
The issue is ubiquitous, affecting the relationship between various types and ranks of communities at every level; not only the relationship between nations, but also that between dominant and non-dominant groups at the sub-national level, between the inhabitants of a city, town or village and outsiders, and even between house-owners and their neighbours. It corresponds also to a basic human instinct – to distinguish between what is ’mine’ or ’ours’ and what is ’yours’ or ’theirs’. Moreover it is highly political, because of historical events like population exchange and changes of rule and political power, which may have resulted in a shift of name status between endonym and exonym.
Another reason for the sensitivity of the endonym/exonym divide is that the use of exonyms is frequently regarded as an expression of claims on geographical features, although this is almost always a misinterpretation. The Working Group on Exonyms of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) dealt from its foundation in 2002 with this divide arriving at an increasingly profound understanding of the issue. Still, many questions are open, such as whether language and officiality were essential criteria for this divide or how it is affected by script conversion or refers to large uninhabited features like seas. This book contains the most recent findings in this respect as presented at the Working Group’s 14th Meeting in Corfu, 23-25 May 2013. They are still controversial, but convey quite a good survey over the problem.
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