Ethnology: Context and Culture

Ethnological study is about context: people, their social and cultural conditions, and how geographical range may have influenced their behaviour. This is a strongly qualitative field where the currencies are beliefs and social norms: A very uncomfortable bedfellows with highly structured methods that stress morphemes and headwords. The people concerned here are the Cornish and the British-Celts of the Western Seaways who shared cultural viewpoints, had opinions and beliefs and whose culture is unique. Gross assumptions that they were barbarians much like any other as described by Caesar, may be completely wrong: ‘Barbarian peoples’ may have been more distinct from each other than modern day peoples are, and Caesar is not a neutral observer. Their geographical range (Cornwall and the Atlantic Arc) influenced their priorities, economic, social and cultural practices, and in turn they transformed their environment through settlement, farming, religion and warfare.

Crucially, my study must recognise the issue of projecting present day norms and values onto these ancient names and naming, and prevent any cultural ‘contamination’ from affecting the processing of evidence. Causes of observer bias are a particular issue (trying not to contaminate analysis with the attitudes, behaviours and beliefs of the modern age).

So, this study is part-phenomenology in so far as recognising that the landscape may have affected naming practices relating to feature names, but also in a broader cultural and spiritual sense, since a treatment of the types of social interaction is required, where personal and place names were created, used and if possible, changed over time. Considering ethnological aspects of Brittonic practice in naming alongside historical linguistics, brings positivist and anti-positivist elements together and creates the space to create a more rounded description of the practice of naming, whilst being firmly grounded by ‘numeric’ evidence. A tall order for my project.

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