ANS Member Research: “Ludic Representation of Toponyms in Riddles” by Olga Chesnokova

Recently presented at the 2024 Annual Meeting of the American Name Society, Olga Chesnokova’s work explores ludic representations of toponyms in riddles. You can watch the presentation here:

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Each culture possesses riddles about toponyms. The hypothesis of this study is that riddles about cities and their names create a ludic image of toponyms, and each riddle text acts as a topographical image and a sign of collective memory, actively developing nowadays on the internet. The investigation of Spanish, Argentinian and Russian riddles about cities proves that they form a system of internal architectonics and create a ludic image in the range from the direct question “What city”: What city is located on 101 islands? (Saint-Petersburg), to diverse metaphors and personifications: En el mapa de Argentina ¿cuál es la provincia que nunca camina?’ (Salta), and complex sound symbols riddles with a fictional plot: El rey Alí /Fue con su can/A tomar té/¿a qué ciudad? (Alicante). Riddles about cities typically praise the cities; no critical or derogatory features of the ludic descriptions were found. The city image in riddles is always positive and combines real topographical features, elements of touristic discourse, cultural associations; all together creating a system of topographic images on the principles of direct questions, polysemy, homonymy, folk etymology, sound symbolism, and allusions to well-known proverbs. Descriptive riddles are typical for all studied cultures; however, a greater diversity was found for the Spanish and Argentinian cultures. Riddles based on sound symbolism are also more characteristic of the Hispanic tradition, which is obviously due to the letter-sound structure of the Spanish place names.


Olga Chesnokova (Doctor in Romance Philology) is Full-time Spanish Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages at RUDN University and author of more than 200 publications on Hispanic Onomastics, Literary Text translation, and particularities of Spanish in Latin America.


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