Linguistic Imperialism, Toponymy, Semiotics & Taxonomies

The Anglicisation of Irish place names in hegemonic library cataloguing systems


  • Frank Houghton Limerick Institute of Technology
  • Lisa O'Rourke Scott


Background. Cataloguing systems are generally assumed to be logical, objective and non-political. In this sense they are often assumed to be rather like maps. However, assumptions around the neutrality of both are erroneous. Maps and cataloguing systems reflect and reproduce dominance and power. In Ireland the six inch to a mile mapping project in the early to mid-1800s is generally accepted as the point at which much of the Anglicisation of Irish place names was formalised. As such it is often assumed that this Anglicisation is a historic event and that similar practices do not continue into the present.

Objective. This paper sought to examine how vernacular names for places are treated in a mainstream international library classification and cataloguing system.

Methods. The treatment of vernacular place names vis-à-vis English was examined under the dominant Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, the Dewey Decimal Classification & Relative Index (DDC) and the Resource Description and Access (RDA) system.

Results. This paper demonstrates how established international library classification and cataloguing systems continue to explicitly require English forms of names over the vernacular.

Contributions. This paper reveals how library classification and cataloguing systems both reinforce the legacy of colonial oppression, and continue to assert the dominance of English. Cataloguing systems may therefore be viewed in terms of their power and purpose, and as such should not be seen as ideologically neutral.






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