Long-Term Data Preservation in Digital Toponymy: “ortsnamen.ch”


Alongside its dictionary the Schweizerisches Idiotikon operates various other projects related to dialects and language including the platform ortsnamen.ch, a portal for Swiss toponymic research.

The primary data source for ortsnamen.ch consists of toponymic dictionaries of German-speaking Switzerland, as well as some from the French-speaking part of the country. These dictionaries were compiled by independent regional projects, resulting in relatively heterogeneous data. Most of these projects are concluded and have been published in book form. Additionally, larger already existing digital datasets are integrated into ortsnamen.ch. Finally, some of the more recent toponymic projects publish exclusively online on our portal.

The project ortsnamen.ch was founded over 20 years ago as the “Datenbank der Schweizer Namenbücher” and was soon made available online. The presentation on the web makes the data searchable and adds a spatial dimension through its map representation. It enables cross-regional comparability that would otherwise not be possible. To some extent, the data is standardised and structured during digital processing. While this process is often challenging, it also offers new possibilities for presentation and analysis. Moreover, unlike a book, an online project allows for corrections and additions at any time.

Like other digital projects, ortsnamen.ch faces the challenge of ensuring its sustainability in a rapidly changing digital world. The use of open standards suitable for medium- and long-term archiving is crucial, as well as ensuring a free and sustainable access to the data (open data, permalinks, etc.). However, this is only one aspect. In today’s digital world, it is essential to stay technologically up to date and be able to adapt to changing needs. For one generation, it may still be natural to buy the book, while for another, reaching for their mobile phone comes first. Presentation on the internet undergoes much faster change than in print.  Ensuring the persistence of a digital project, and maintaining its perception of continuity, is hardly possible without at least minimal resources for ongoing maintenance. Ortsnamen.ch benefits from being associated with the Schweizerisches Idiotikon, which provides a high level of institutional stability. Toponyms are a popular topic, making it easier to raise resources than  it may be for subjects that draw less attention. In addition, the Schweizerisches Idiotikon has its own IT and language technology department and can thus ensure both the linguistic and technical development of its projects in-house.

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