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Landscape embedded in language

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Abstract

Humans interact with landscape by classifying and labeling a select multitude of the landscape’s limitless individual areas and features. Studying place names reveals much about language, perception, values, beliefs, environment, economy, and history. Like place-naming among other Athabaskan speakers, Navajo toponymic practice overwhelmingly produces descriptive names for landscape features, reserving commemorative and activity place-naming largely for human-modified places. Athabaskan languages employ an unusual number of topological and directional affixes and verb forms, which can condense and convey much information within brief descriptive place names. Lexeme frequencies hint at what Navajos see or saw as significant in their natural landscape. Place-naming facilitated possessing/controlling landscapes. The Navajo attached the itineraries and activities of mythological protagonists to the land via a web of place names; the associated stories and their descriptive names served as mnemonic guides for far-traveling Navajos.

References

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