Background to the semiotic study of maps
The article concerns cartosemiotics, the sign-theoretic study of cartographic representation forms. The emphasis is on maps, i.e., one kind of these representation forms. The aim is to provide a background to cartosemiotics, as far as it relates to maps. After introductory matters have been covered, the first part of the discussion presents an overview of the discipline, encompassing major themes of study (six altogether) and general research orientations. The central thematic complex is map symbolism, i.e., the type of sign systems that underlies mapping and map use; it is the raison d’être of the discipline. Further, a systematic, an applied, and a comparative research orientation are recognized. The second part addresses a number of issues which relate to the complicated character of cartosemiotics. It is advisable to be aware of them at an early stage of research. They pertain to map symbolism and to cartosemiotics as a whole. Map symbolism has five facets of complexity. These must be taken into account in describing signs in a map. Further, map symbolism has additional background characteristics of a general nature, some of which show that its application in the making and interpretation of maps is not always a straightforward task. The section on cartosemiotics as a whole covers two issues which are important but unfortunately not always kept in mind.