No full and coherent history of the Alps has been presented until now ("Eine umfassende und kohärente Geschichte der Alpen wurde bisher noch nicht vorgelegt", http://www.hls-dhs-dss.ch/textes/d/D8569.php); rather different, physiogeographical and economical-political definitions of the Alps are competing with each other ("naturräumliche" und "wirtschaftlich-politische Alpendefinitionen", Bätzing 1997, 23 f.). In the sense of a transparent and pragmatic definition, the area under investigation of this project has been equated with the clearly defined purview of the Alpine Convention. The inconsistencies between the member states ("Inkonsistenzen zwischen den Mitgliedstaaten", Bätzing 1997, 31)) which are defined in this treaty have been accepted by VerbaAlpina. They regard the Bavarian foothills of the Alps (included), larger areas at the edge of the Alps as the Emmental or the Zürcher Oberland ("größere randalpine Gebiete wie das Emmental oder das Zürcher Oberland", Bätzing 1997, 32), excluded) as well as some more important cities at the edge of the Alps: Lucerne and Salzburg are included, but Graz and Biella are excluded. The perimeter of the Alpine Convention can be downloaded here. The real aim of the project is, however, to record the Alps as linguistic-cultural area within this formally defined frame and to depict the similarity of the places belonging to the Alps.
From the ethnolinguistic point of view of VerbaAlpina, the basic types form the basis of the multilingual Alpine region. In the sense of a synthetic depiction, two different quantitative mapping functions are planned:
At first, the Alpine lexicon is particular interest. Its totality forms so to speak a fictitious ideal type which the single local dialects come close to more or less. The mapping of a gradual similarity corresponds to this; the gradual similarity was inspired by the representation of the champ gradient de la gasconité in the ALG 6.
Further, the relative similarity of all places among themselves is mapped by identifying the common basic types of any place and the ones of any other place as point of reference and displaying them, following the example set by the ASD.
Séguy, Jean (1973): Atlas linguistique de la Gascogne, Paris, vol. 6
For the inductive research of the cultural area, demographic and institutional data are interesting every time that they can be geo-referenced. Part of such data is information about the settlement history, especially regarding the membership to church or state institutions. Likewise communication, in particular pass roads, is of fundamental importance (cf. map).
Ecological as well as geophysical data are relevant in case they have a clear reference to the settlement history. This is evident for instance with regard to the vegetation zones which allow or require certain utilisations (e.g. the Alpine dairy requires elevations above the tree line (http://www.slf.ch/forschung_entwicklung/gebirgsoekosystem/themen/baumgrenze/index_EN).
Geocoding is a fundamental ordering criterion of the data which are administrated by VerbaAlpina; degrees of latitude and longitude are used for geocoding. The exactness of this coding varies depending on the data type; VerbaAlpina aims at a coding as exact as possible, to within a metre. In the case of linguistic data from atlases and dictionaries, it is generally only possible to do an approximate coding according to the place name. However, in the case of e.g. archaeological data a geocoding to within a meter is actually possible. Spots, lines (as streets, rivers etc.) and surfaces can be saved. For the geocoding, the so-called WKT format (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Well-known_text) is essentially used, which is transferred to a specific MySQL format in the VA database by means of the function geomfromtext() (https://dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.7/en/gis-wkt-functions.html and is saved like this. The output in WKT result is done by means of the MySQL function astext().
The reference grid of the geocoding is the network of municipalities in the Alpine region, which can be output as surface or as spots, as required. The basis is the courses of the municipalities’ border from circa 2014, which VerbaAlpina received from its partner "Alpine Convention". A constant update of these data (which can often change due to administrative reforms) is unnecessary because they form merely a geographical reference frame. The spot depiction of the municipality grid is deduced in an algorithmic way from the municipalities’ borders and therefore secondary. The calculated municipality spots represent the geometric midpoints of the municipality surfaces and mark only by case theirs centre. If necessary, all data can be projected individually or in an accumulated way on the calculated municipality spot. This is the case for linguistic data out of atlases and dictionaries.
Additionally, there will be a honeycombed grid which is quasi geocoded: it portrays in fact the approximate position of the municipalities to each other, but it assigns at the same time an idealised surface with each time the same form and size to each municipality territory. By doing so, two alternative methods of mapping are offered to the users. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and both offer a certain suggestive potential because of their figurativeness. The topographic depiction gives a better insight into the concrete spatiality (with its very special ground profile, single transitions, valley courses, inaccessible valley exits etc.) because of its precision. The honeycomb map in comparison allows more abstracted visualisations of the data as it balances the sizes of municipality surfaces and agglomeration resp. scattered settlements. This is especially useful for quantitative maps because perceiving the size of the surface the impression of quantitative weight is instinctively created.
(auct. Thomas Krefeld | Stephan Lücke – trad. Susanne Oberholzer)
This portal informs in three different dimensions:
(1) about extralinguistic reality ('things'),
(2) about concepts, or: categories in terms of content or rather onomasiological categories that are not tied to singular languages or dialects,
(3) about linguistic [[expressions|typification] of the languages and dialects investigated by the project.
The separate treatment of (2) and (3) is fundamental as the relevant concepts not always are documented by specific designations ('lexicalised') in the entire area under investigation. So, in wide parts of the Bavarian-speaking area, there is no word for the cheese made out of whey (cf. for this Alem. Ziger, Ital. ricotta, French sérac), whereas there often is no designation for the fresh, still unformed cheese mass (Bavarian. Topfen, German Quark) in the Romance dialects as well as in Standard Italian. The relation of (1) on the one hand, and (2) and (3) on the other hand is occasionally also more complicated as it seems at first glance: So, there are sometimes linguistic expressions with unclear semiotic status because it does not follow from the attestations if it is a designation of a concept or a name for a thing we are dealing with. This is the case e.g. if a speaker calls a particular mountain pasture, for instance the one he uses himself, by a generic word as munt literally 'mountain' or as pastüra 'meadow'.
Mapping is a perhaps not entirely undisputed method in linguistic geography, but a well-established and proven one. It is equally for the documentation and the visualisation of spatial relations (cf. the contributions in Lameli 2010). The usual methods differ clearly in their conciseness. In the case of the so-called 'analytic' maps linguistic (part) utterances are represented so that the documentation is mainly in the foreground; the discovery of the spatial relations between the documented forms is left up to the reader. In the so-called dot distribution maps, in comparison, the spatial relations between single aspects of expression are directly expressed by the 'synthetic' symbol allocation. Quantitative relations can only be represented this way. The online mapping of VerbaAlpina occurs on a geocoded basis and combines both methods: it shows at first sight 'synthetic' maps, but allows on closer inspection access on the (part) utterance after a click on the symbol.
The heuristic potential of mapping is considerable. That is the reason why VerbaAlpina offers the option to its users to combine and accumulate different data classes from one category (e.g. several base types) or from different categories (e.g. extralinguistic and linguistic data) on synoptic maps.
Alfred Lameli/Roland Kehrein/Stefan Rabanus (2010): Language and Space. Vol. 2: Language Mapping. An international Handbook of Linguistic Variation, Berlin/New York, De Gruyter
The multimedia library of VerbaAlpina contains an extensive, constantly growing collection of geocoded photographs. These serve a double purpose: on the one hand, they refer to concrete referents with all their idiosyncratic characteristics, which can be very distinctive especially in case of buildings. On the other hand, the photographs should illustrate a concept as clearly as possible and become the basis for the collection of further designations of the concept. Thus, the aim of this function is not to recognise the specific referent, i.e. a particular alpine herdsmen's hut. On the contrary, this would rather be annoying because informants tend to name the mountain pasture by its proper name in such cases and not by the designation of the concept. However, this is a contained risk: a fundamental misunderstanding results only if informants recognise known persons. In such cases, the individual characteristics attract the observer's whole concentration so that the depicted person is called spontaneously and instinctively by the name ("this is Willi!") – and not by the function the person performs on the photograph (ALPINE DAIRYMAN). Strictly speaking, the use of idealised drawings instead of photographs of concrete objects would be better to collect designations. However, this fails because of the lack of appropriate patterns. All depictions of referents are joined to the categories "concept" and "designation" through the database.
(auct. Thomas Krefeld | Stephan Lücke – trad. Susanne Oberholzer)