My Research Thesis

Onomastics in the Brittonic language of Early Cornwall

Research Thesis by Andrew Climo

Big Data is transforming marketing, politics, health care, genetics, physical sciences, and now the humanities. There are potential and significant opportunities within onomastics (naming studies) and toponymy (place names), and but the question is how to avoid the trap of ‘doing the same, only quicker’ and fundamentally transform this field.

A wealth of historical and contemporary place name data is now available, and when blended with computer processing provides a tool able to model the processes of naming, language change and shift. However, at present there is no clear-cut methodological framework for this.

The first goal will be to review theoretical and analytical approaches, identify potential pitfalls using ‘Big Data’ processing and suggest methods for managing bias and error specifically associated with place name data.

For Cornwall and Scilly there are just under 6,000 places listed in the Ordnance Survey Open Names dataset, many of which are settlements carrying the names of individuals who lived in the Early Medieval Period.

This data is yet to be ‘mined’ for potentially valuable historical, cultural and linguistic content, so a second goal will be apply what has been learned from the first part of the project to the toponyms of Cornwall and Scilly, review the geo-spatial distribution of settlement names and identify statistically significant or revealing data.

Crucially, questions of language change, retreat of the Cornish language, language shift, pattern and nature of settlement and general assumptions in toponymy will be reconsidered in the light of quantitative data produced by the project. It is intended to then make this data available for researchers in related fields.