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When Languages DieThe Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge$
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K. David Harrison

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195181920

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195181920.001.0001

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An Atlas in the Mind

An Atlas in the Mind

(p.101) 4 An Atlas in the Mind
When Languages Die

K. David Harrison (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter begins by discussing the writer's experiences while trekking the Sayan Mountains in search for Tofa language speakers. It then explains how the Tofa oriented themselves firstly by rivers and secondarily by mountains. It adds that their basic unit of distance is called a kösh, denoting the actual distance one can cover in a day on reindeer back depending on terrain, snowfall, and other conditions. It states that Tofa elders possess intricate knowledge of the rivers, streams and tributaries of the Uda River basin which drain a thousand square miles of forest simply by keeping a virtual atlas of Tofa-land in their heads. It explains that by a combination of the elders' forgetfulness and the their capability to trek their territory, as well as by the decline of reindeer-herding, language shift, and cultural change, the transmission of Tofa topographic knowledge has been fully interrupted.

Keywords:   atlas, mental map, Sayan Mountains, Tofa language speakers, rivers

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