National Geographic : 1896 Sep
DESCRIPTIVE TOPOGRAPHIC TERMS OF SPANISH AMERICA* By ROBERT T. HILL, United States GeologicalSurvey "Did it ever occur to the reader how poverty-stricken the (I will not say English exactly, but) Anglo-American language is in sharp, crisp, definite topographic terms ? English writers seem to have gathered up a moderate number of them, but they got most of them from Scotland within the past thirty or forty years. They are not a part of our legiti mate inheritance from the mother country. In truth, we have in this country some three or four words which are available for duty in express ing several scores of topographic characteristics. Anything that is hol low we call a valley and anything that stands up above the surrounding land we call a hill or mountain; but the Spanish-or Mexican, if you prefer-is rich in topographic terms which are delightfully expressive and definite. There is scarcely a feature of the land which repeats itself with similar characteristics that has not a pat name; and these terms are euphonious as well as precise. They designate things objective as happily and concisely as the Saxon designates things subjective; there fore we use them." -Major C. E. Dutton, " Mount Taylor and the Zufii Plateau," pp. 126-127, Sixth Annual Report, U. S. Geological Survey, 1884-'85. An appropriate generic name should be provided for every possible form of the earth's surface, so that when referred to it may be as readily recognized as are the parts of a building in an architectural description. The nomenclature of geographic processes has far outstripped that of topographic forms, so that pages of literature are burdened with sentences descriptive of ordinary unnamed features of the landscape that should be expressed by simple designations. The English language is exceedingly sterile in topographic adjectives and substantives, and such words as we possess are ambiguously applied to many different specific forms. All topographic forms may be reduced to four distinct generic categories-eminences (protuberances), plains, valleys, and de clivities. Each of these has variations productive of a large number of specific forms, passing one into another. * Prepared for a report to the Director of the U. S. Geological Survey on the geogra phy of the Texas - New Mexican region of the United States.