Map making has always been a heated business, and even with the technological advances of cartography in the Internet age, the political aspects of cartography haven't gone away.
In particular, Google Maps has blundered into a variety of geopolitical controversies in recent years, and this week it seems to have found another. Yes, Google has pissed of the Swiss.
On Thursday Swiss-German newspaper Sudostschweiz published a story attacking Google's mapping of Switzerland, with a critique coming under the title “Internet-Giant Confusion with Linguistic Chaos.”
The problem centered on the easternmost canton of Graubünden, highlighted red in the image above, where a number of geographic landmarks had been labeled in the wrong language.
The confusion comes as Switzerland officially has four languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh). Because of this, the canton has a variety of names — Graubünden is German, for example, but it has also been called by the names Grigioni (Italian), Grisons (French), and Grischun (Romansh). Romansh is by far the least widely spoken language in Switzerland; according to a 2000 Census, just 0.5% of the Swiss population (just 35,095 people) speak it as their main language. The same survey found that a number of foreign languages, including English, Portuguese, and Albanian, were more common than Romansch.
Google seems aware of this. When you look at a map of Switzerland on Google Maps, the Romansch name for the country (Svizra) isn't even included. However, for reasons that are entirely unclear, the Web giant chose to switch the German names for landmarks in Graubünden to their Romansch names.
Sudostschweiz points out at least 10 errors. For example, the German-speaking town of Flims is named Flem on the map, despite the fact that the village of Flims, right next to it is correctly called Flims Dorf.
The Local reports that a number of other Germanophone areas have been mislabeled, including the famous ski resort Klosters, which is instead called by its Romansch name of Claustra.
Other mistakes are more inexplicable. One town, known by the Romansch name of Laax, is labeled "Lags." According to the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, the town was known by that name when it was first mentioned in records around 1290-98. Sudostschweiz writes that few people in the town are likely to have ever heard of the ancient name.
The map now appears to show both names:
This all may seem silly, but Swiss officials aren't too pleased that Google won't use the official names. “For tourism reasons we have every interest that Google use the official name for municipalities,” Bruno Maranta, secretary general of the Graubünden economic affairs department, told Swiss reporters.
Worse still, it seems to be a recurring problem. The map was apparently already corrected earlier this summer after complaints from Graubünden, but the incorrect version came back with no explanation.
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