Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

The digital wenker atlas ( an online research tool for modern dialectology

Joachim Herrgen


The principal goal of the Marburg Research Centre “Deutscher Sprachatlas” is the study of dialects, nonstandard varieties, and regional varieties of the German language. This expands upon the institute’s original purely dialectological research focus to completely encompass the spatial and social variation of spoken German language. The dominating research goal of such variation-linguistic dialectology is the investigation of the structure and change of the entire spectrum of regional linguistic variation between the poles of standard language and base dialect. Wenker’s historic Sprachatlas des Deutschen Reichs is of special importance for the study of language change in German. Comparing Wenker data collected over 100 years ago with more recent but equally detailed data such as that from modern regional atlases allows a systematic analysis of the transformation of spoken language over more than a century. The Digital Wenker Atlas (DiWA) project in Marburg, which has just (2009) finished, is centred on the publication and academic analysis of Wenker’s linguistic atlas. The primary goal of this project has been the first complete publication of the 1,653 original maps of the Sprachatlas des Deutschen Reichs. The atlas has been made available online at and is accessible for a broad public. This has also created a high-quality, searchable and navigable digital archive of the work. DiWA is, however, far more than an online version of the Sprachatlas des Deutschen Reichs. One special feature is the integration of the maps into a geographic information system (GIS) with cartographic, biographic and sound archive databases. Together with a transparency and overlay function, georeferencing makes it possible to superimpose a Wenker map over any other electronic map and directly compare them, locality for locality, to reach conclusions about dialect regions and the cooccurrence of dialectal phenomena. This opens up a unique window onto language change, when the Wenker maps are compared with those from contemporary regional dialect atlases. The transparency function is not restricted to purely linguistic maps of course; topographic, cultural-historical, or sociodemographic cartographic material can also be compared point for point, offering insights into the complex web of relations between language, space, time, and society.

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