By Kamil Wiśniewski Aug 27th, 2007

Language has been studied by scholars dealing with practically all the liberal arts such as psychology, pedagogy, linguistics and philosophy. Some of the recent trends in language studies have focused on the correlation between the biological processes of the brain and language (neurolinguistics), as well as the mental processes occurring in mind and their influence on the linguistic system (cognitive linguistics). Lately also the relationship between the people’s environment and their language arouse linguists’ interest.

The first ideas concerning language and environment were expressed by Edward Sapir and are now known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which states that the language a person speaks influences the way the world is perceived and interacted with. Now there are four different approaches to the relationship between languages and their environments and all of them emerge from different schools of linguistic thought. As said by Chomsky and cognitive linguists the human language is independent of the environment, according to one other theory the language is constructed by the world. Structuralists and poststructuralists claim that the world is constructed by the language, while ecolinguists suggest that the language is interconnected with the environment as language constructs it and is constructed by it.

All of the above mentioned possibilities are considered by a recently emerging discipline of ecolinguistics, however linguists put different emphasis on different types of relationships of language and environment. What is generally agreed is that with the growing awareness of the influence of human activities on global environment there has been a surge in the number of words describing those issues. Most of the neologisms originate in the English language and are very technical and thus abstract, they are often multiword formations of Greek or Latin origin. It has been pointed out that many terms are introduced to mislead the public attention about problematic practices as in the following examples: substituting wetland drainage with ‘land reclamation’, or wild animals hunting with ‘game management’.

Although the analysis of grammar in respect of its influence on human behavior connected with environment has been conducted, such studies are still not very frequent. What has been hitherto discovered, however, is that including animals in the same gender class as humans emphasizes the solidarity of people with their environment. Moreover the amount of changes made in the environment of people speaking languages in which the cause-effect relationship is difficult to encode is smaller than in communities using other languages.

Analyses of large texts are also performed in order to check what attitudes towards the natural environment might be developed by their readers. Usually focusing on the choice of lexis linguists emphasize that the same issues might be portrayed in a quite different way by people from opposite parties. Opposing groups use different words to describe the same notions as for example in the case of environmentalists and developers talking about the same piece of land. In spite of the fact that the described entity is the same, because of different approaches in texts readers of the environmentalists’ version will have a different notion of the landscape than readers of developers’ text.

Brown K. (Editor) 2005. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics – 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier.

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