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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Toponymy and Natural Environment: A Retrospective Study of Environmental Changes Based on Toponyms

M Nguessan
B Kouadio
Governors State University, Illinois, USA, United States

The purpose of this study is to show how one can partially trace back natural environment and environmental changes based on the study of place names. We assume that place names refer to an existing reality at the time the name was given. The physical field of our study is Baoulé country, Côte-d’Ivoire, West Africa. Among the Baoulé, place names can refer to a person, a cultural element or a natural element. Our focus in this paper is on place names that refer to elements in the natural environment; this study tries to: 1) verify the historical and current semantic relevance of the place names; 2) point out the semantic discrepancy between the name and the current natural environment; 3) trace back environmental changes and causes that have taken away the semantic relevancy of the name. In some case, the semantic discrepancy is not caused by environmental changes, but is due to the fact that the village has moved to another physical site. In such a case, how relevant is the old name for the village on a new site? The study is based on data collected through fieldwork and from written and oral sources and the authors’ knowledge of the natural environment, the language and the culture in Baoulé country.

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