Language and the Making of Place: A Narrative-Descriptive Approach
Version of Record online: 23 FEB 2005
Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Volume 81, Issue 4, pages 684–696, December 1991
How to Cite
Tuan, Y.-F. (1991), Language and the Making of Place: A Narrative-Descriptive Approach. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 81: 684–696. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.1991.tb01715.x
- Issue online: 23 FEB 2005
- Version of Record online: 23 FEB 2005
- Submitted 1/91, revised 6/91, accepted 6/91.
Abstract How places are made is at the core of human geography. Overwhelmingly the discipline has emphasized the economic and material forces at work. Neglected is the explicit recognition of the crucial role of language, even though without speech humans cannot even begin to formulate ideas, discuss them, and translate them into action that culminates in a built place. Moreover, words alone, used in an appropriate situation, can have the power to render objects, formerly invisible because unattended, visible, and impart to them a certain character: thus a mere rise on a flat surface becomes something far more—a place that promises to open up to other places—when it is named “Mount Prospect.’The different ways by which language contributes toward the making of place may be shown by exploring a wide range of situations and cultural contexts. Included in this paper are the contexts of hunter-gatherers, explorers and pioneers, intimate friendship, literary London, Europe in relation to Asia, and Chinese gardening and landscape art. There is a moral dimension to speech as there is to physical action. Thus warm conversation between friends can make the place itself seem warm; by contrast, malicious speech has the power to destroy a place's reputation and thereby its visibility. In the narrative-descriptive approach, the question of how and why language is effective is implied or informally woven into the presentation, but not explicitly formulated or developed. Ways of making place in different situations—from the naming of objects by pioneers, to informal conversation in any home, to the impact of written texts—are highlighted and constitute the paper's principal purpose, rather than causal explanations, which must vary with each type of linguistic behavior and each situation.