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Landscape Terms, Place Names, and the Question of Formal Ontology.

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1 Landscape Terms, Place Names, and the Question of Formal Ontology

2 Ethnophysiography is a newly-defined science that seeks to understand and compare the meanings of terms that people from different cultures use to refer to the landscape and its components. Ethnophysiography is motivated by a number of fundamental questions. For example:

3 When people look at a natural landscape, do they see it as filled up with features (objects) such as hill, lakes, and woodlands? Or do they simply see it as a continuous landscape? Perhaps they take an intermediate conceptualization, seeing scattered features over a continuous landscape field?

4 Next, for people who see natural geographic features or objects, are the features determined by the type of landscape? Does everyone see about the same numbers of features, in the same places, with about the same boundaries, and grouped into the same kinds? Or does the identification, delimitation, and classification of landscape features vary across cultures, landscape, languages, or individuals?

5 Third, there are the issues of naming. What things (entities, regions, objects, features, places) in the landscape are available (cognitively) to be named and talked about? Of those things, which get common names (that is, things that are considered to belong to kinds) (always, sometimes, never), and which get proper (individual) names (always, sometimes, never). From David Mark & Andrew Turk, “Ethnophysiography”. Paper presented at Workshop on Spatial and Geographic Ontologies, 23 September, 2003: p. 2.

6 Perhaps the best way to think of ethnophysiography is as a method, which uses resources from several disciplines. But to what end?

7  The desired outcome may be to construct knowledge.  This knowledge might be about particulars, that is, about how specific cultures represent landscape in their imaginative universe.  The knowledge might be about commonalities. That is, one might be trying to make an argument about what is shared in cultural representations of landscape.  The knowledge might be directed at demonstrating that there is a unified sub-structure to language. Given the variability of language in most situations, one might suppose that charting the diverse representations of landscape will give evidence of an invariant universal. It is worth noting that this might just as well be an assumption as a possible outcome.

8 The desired outcome may be to create a matrix of interoperability. In other words, one may want to find an ontology robust enough to be able to contain the diverse representations of landscape in one matrix. That matrix would potentially enable localized translations, that is, translations between two language games, based on a set of equivalences in either objects or relations.

9 The desired outcome may be universal translatability. This is a step beyond interoperability. It supposes that we could understand a cultural system and its use of landscape terms, and then have a master list which would correlate some across cultural borders and also point out the gaps or discontinuities.

10  Framing Questions to Generate Data  Data Gathering  Connecting Meaning with Expression  Framing Expressions as Objects (Ontology)  Applying the Ontology: GIS

11 The questions here are not just the ones used with the participants in a culture, but the ones used by the researchers to establish the method.

12 Inside/Outside Specifically, what is the difference between emic/etic knowledge in this case? Are we looking for knowledge that is recognizable to the meaning-structures of participants, or knowledge that is meaningful to someone outside of the group?

13 Example from structuralism: Ask someone inside a group why they engage in a meaningful practice (e.g., getting married). Then, ask someone outside the group why someone inside the group engages in that practice. A phenomenologist will hone in on the experience of engaging in the practice, while a structuralist will focus on how the practice fits into a web of meaning within the culture.

14 The first is interested in an emic account, the second in an etic account. Is one account “true” and the other “false? And, if both are true, how do they relate to each other? Can the content of one be relevant in the other? In this method, they must be related, because we start with the first and end up with the second.

15 Once a mode of questioning has been established, data can be gathered. “Data”, though, is a term more oriented to the eventual outcome of the method than to the starting point.

16 Perth Yindjibarndi country

17 Yindjibarndi Study




21 South-Western edge of Yindjibarndi country

22  Since 2002 the main method utilized is interviews with speakers of the language.  The participants were requested to discuss the landscape features displayed in a set of 40 photos (like previous images).  Each photo showed a landscape scene, and they were chosen (and ordered) to display a good cross- section of landscape features.  The sessions were audio taped and the researchers took notes.

23 Ned Cheedy Roebourne, June 18 2006

24 35

25 Terms for convex landscape features do not match up mountain hill marnda bargu burbaa

26 Yindjibarndi Study – Water Features A permanent pool called “Nangarnyungu”at Jindawarrina

27  There are no permanent or even seasonal rivers or creeks in Yindjibarndi country  Larger watercourses have running water in them only after cyclones  Permanent sources of water include permanent pools along the channel of the Fortescue River, as well as some permanent small springs, and soaks (where water can be obtained by digging) Water in Yindjibarndi country

28 Yindjibarndi has two terms for fluvial channels: Garga - roughly equivalent to "gully"



31 yijirdi for shallow, narrow flow of water Here flowing into a yinda (permanent pool)

32 thardarr is the Yindjibarndi word for “An area of cliff where water sometimes falls, whether there is water or not.” When water is flowing, the water is manggurdu or yijirdi

33  The channel and the water seem to be separate entities.  In Yindjibarndi permanent and temporary water features are considered to be different kinds of features.  English, in contrast, treats permanence of water bodies and water courses as an attribute, and expresses it via adjectives like "temporary", "seasonal", "intermittent", or "ephemeral“.  The key distinction in English is still vs flowing water.  It seems that permanent water in Yindjibarndi is a yinda, whether still or flowing.  Thus there is a significant difference in conceptualizations of water features between Yindjibarndi and English.


35 Some General Conclusions from Yindjibarndi Study (1): None of the Yindjibarndi terms for landscape features that we have examined in depth so far is exactly equivalent to one single term in English. Yindjibarndi terms divide up sub-domains of geographic reality differently than do English terms.

36  In late 2008 we completed a photo-illustrated Yindjibarndi landscape dictionary for community use.  Includes about 100 landscape terms:  49 basic (simple) landscape terms  49 additional terms that combine with some of these to produce compound landscape terms

37 1. Whole/parts (mereology) – where do we start in our analysis of language in place? Do we start by describing details, and then developing a larger cultural knowledge out of that, or do we start with understanding a culture’s values and epistemology and then fit in the significant terms? After all, just because there are terms for landscape objects or experiences, doesn’t make them all equally significant.

38 2. Just as most people regard landscape as equivalent to land, and thus fail to see that our view of the land has been constructed through a long history of visual representation and technological innovation, so too it is possible to regard the sum of landscape words and place names in a culture as equivalent to that culture’s knowledge about itself. We can fail to see that despite our best efforts we may be unable to not bring assumptions about the ontologies of others to the “formal ontology” that ethnophysiography strives for.

39 The phenomenological work involved in collecting data based in experience must be transformed into manipulable data based in structure. This is an issue in most human sciences. How does it manifest itself when dealing with place-terms?

40 1. What is lost in the translation? 2. What is gained in the translation? 3. What are the philosophical assumptions about both emic and etic perspectives?

41 An ontology in the information system sense is part of the semantic web, that is, the WWW project which attempts to model relations among objects, to context, and to a whole, as opposed to attributes of discrete unrelated objects in a context-less domain. Ontologies are an example of Tim Berner-Lee’s “Web 3.0”, or the semantic web.

42 Consider the difference between an old-style Yahoo search, a Google search, and what Google cannot search: Yahoo: searched meta-data and content. Google: Does what Yahoo did, plus orders by “Pageranks”, that is, user “feedback” in the form of links from other popular pages. What Google doesn’t do: relate pages in a meaningful way, so that a search for the word “place” differentiates between casual and technical senses of the term.

43 Based in OWL (Web Ontology Language)  Library of projects: ibrary ibrary  John Bateman’s Ontology Portal: http://www.fb10.uni- pages/ontology/ontology-root.htmhttp://www.fb10.uni- pages/ontology/ontology-root.htm  Barry Smith’s Ontology Page:  DOLCE  MUSIL

44 Once an ontology has been generated, the final step to integration with GIS is relatively straightforward. However, it is not the end of the philosophical issues.

45 1. What does “useful” mean, and to whom should the ontology be useful? 2. Is the goal of the implemented ontology 1. Representation of a system? 2. Interoperability (translation across two ontologies)? 3. Universal translation of landscape representations?

46 How can the phenomenological data-gathering techniques connect with and not undermine the structural ontologies? How can an ontology, in the information science sense of the term, co-exist with a phenomenology?

47 An initial approach: Let’s suppose the question has to do with the location of meaning. In phenomenology, meaning lies in experience. In a structural system, meaning lies in the interaction of the components of the system.

48 Consider: At the beginning of the method, the goal is to capture the structure of meaning for a culture as seen in its landscape terms. Those terms might be generic, but the line between the generic and the proper may be fuzzy. And, in both cases, there may be narrative or mythic content, that expresses the collective meaning of a people for itself. Phenomenology (and its heir, hermeneutics) seems appropriate to this task.

49 But at the other end of the method, meaning resides in the interrelations of objects within an ontology. Just as in structuralism, the relations between objects matter. The objects themselves do not, nor does the person who is the source or subject of the objects within the ontology.

50 This might be seen as an inherent problem. We might think that no ontology could ever really capture the lived meaning of a culture, when it comes to landscape, and no phenomenology could ever adequately provide the material necessary to build an ontology. The locations of meaning are too far apart, and there is no reliable mechanism to move from one to the other.

51 How did we end up in this tension? In part, because of limitations on apprehending or representing meaning inherent in both phenomenology and ontology.

52 The limitation of phenomenology, at least of the Husserlian sort, is that there is an abiding question about whether experience really is the bedrock of meaning. Heidegger asks what comes before experience, and in another way, so does Deleuze. So, do we really capture a culture’s dynamic self- creation by looking for the “universal” elements of experience? Does any of this tell us where new concepts come from?

53 And ontology relies on the idea that meaning comes in the interrelation of signifiers. Even if that is not taken in a Saussurean manner, there is still the question of whether there is any remainder after signification. In other words, does anything lie outside of the realm of signifiers? Do we really capture a culture’s place-consciousness by capturing its words about place, along with their relations and contexts?

54 So, what is the answer? Several options: 1. The overall method fails – the beginning and ending cannot remain together. Phenomenologists will see what later thinkers do as missing the point of experience, while the later thinkers will regard phenomenologists as empiricists.

55 2. Modified Ricoeur: Phenomenology and ontology exist in dialectic. Phenomenology gives us a “pre- ontological” (in the philosophical sense) intuition, that then becomes textualized and obeys a set of external rules. Once that happens, the text is re- appropriated in a renewed sense of self. In other words, phenomenology and ontology each make up for the limits of the other. See: Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning

56 3. Deleuze: The tension between forms of knowledge about landscape is not a failure, but the opportunity to create new concepts adequate to the situation. The cost: we give up on meaning as located either in experience or in ontology. See: Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus and What Is Philosophy?

57 It depends on what the purpose of ethnophysiography is. If the purpose is to accurately represent the world, then meaning seems necessary, and we are back to the question of where it is located and how forms of meaning relate to each other.

58 If, however, we resist seeing cultural groups as mute objects of inquiry, but rather as producers of fluid knowledge which responds to the conditions of its production, and their knowledge is every bit as legitimate as the attempts to represent them either emically or etically, then the question shifts, to: Why does a (landscape) concept have currency for some group?

59 This moves the issue from what a concept means to what it does and how it comes to be. 1. What do particular kinds of spatial differentiations make possible? 2. What forms of life are allowed/encouraged, and what forms are forbidden/restricted, by particular spatial orderings?

60 Sidelining the question of meaning makes these other questions possible to ask. Both phenomenological investigation and the construction of ontologies are still possible. We just remain agnostic as to which has the privileged location of meaning. And that epoché (to use a term from Husserl) can make creativity possible.

61 The philosophical questions about ethnophysiography, then, are:  How is knowledge produced?  How is knowledge related to concepts about place?  What makes those concepts live ones in a culture, and what does it mean to be competent in that culture, both as an insider and as a scholar from the outside?

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