Indigenous Language and TEK

For Ecuador’s Sapara, saving the forest means saving their language
By: Sarah Sax
2 July 2019
Key words: Ecuador, language, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, sour ants, rainforest, oil extraction, biodiversity, linguistic diversity, palm, grub, forest rodent, forest protection
With a population of 400, the Sapara are one of many Indigenous populations attempting to hold onto their language. The most rapid loss in languages in the world has occurred in the Americas. With the loss of language, Traditional Ecological Knowledge is threatened because so much of TEK is imbedded in language. Protection of the forest and retention of the language “go hand-in-hand.”

Lost in Translation/Speaking the Language of the Land
By: Francesca Castagnetti
The Ethnobotanical Assembly, Issue 3
Summer 2019
Keywords: Language, objectification of nature, alternative ways of knowing
Plant communication is just one example of the ways the natural world defies objectification. Indigenous knowledge can broaden research. Western science and indigenous knowledge need not be opposed to each other.

How the loss of Native American languages affects our understanding of the natural world
By: Rosalyn R. LaPier
The Conversation
October 5, 2018
Key words: indigenous languages, traditional knowledge, ecosystems, Hawaiian, Blackfeet, Ojibwe, immersion
The author discusses environmental knowledge imbedded in languages, and the importance of retaining this knowledge through retention of language. She provides examples from three tribes.

The Importance of Indigenous Knowledge in Curbing the Loss of Language and Biodiversity
By: Benjamin T. Wilder, Carolyn O’Meara, Laurie Monti, and Gary Paul Nabhan
BioScience, Vol. 66, Issue 6. Pages 499 - 509
June 1, 2016
Key words: Comcaac / Seri people of Sonora, Mexico; biodiversity, endangered languages, knowledge systems, taxonomic divisions, place names
Biodiversity and linguistic diversity are related, and both are currently facing extreme loss. Traditional ecological knowledge is often lost when a language is lost, and scholarship in documenting this knowledge has often focused on the shared knowledge or universals. The authors propose that unique expressions, taxonomic distinctions, and place names should be of particular importance. They examined cases where the Comcaac language has been used to prove differences in the scientific knowledge of the area. The article discusses the importance of indigenous language not just for the indigenous population but also as an important piece of data in understanding the biodiversity of an area, such as northern Mexico.

When Grasshopper Meets Lightning: How Ecological Knowledge is Encoded in Endangered Languages
By: David Stringer
Langscape Magazine, 5:1
Summer 2016
Key words: language endangerment, linguistics, ecological terms, folk taxonomy, classification systems, revitalization, transmission of knowledge, biocultural diversity
Traditional knowledge of a place and its ecosystem is bound up and encoded in the language used there. Linguists are concerned about the endangerment of thousands of the world’s languages and the ecological knowledge that will be lost as well, which is bound up in terms, morphemes (smaller parts of words), and classification systems. Researchers also note how TEK is transferred to the next generations through songs, myths, and stories that tell of correct timing for planting, harvesting, animal migrations, and seasonal changes.

Language Attrition and Loss of Indigenous Knowledge: The Twin Sisters of Environmental Degradation in Kenya
By: Tom Onditi Louch
American Journal of Indigenous Studies, Vol. 1
Jan. 2016
Key words: language loss, attrition, indigenous knowledge, environmental degradation, extinction
Indigenous language attrition contributes to loss of indigenous knowledge. In this open-access scientific journal article, the focus is on Kenyan environmental degradation. The author argues that a means to conserve environmental resources is by maintaining indigenous languages that hold knowledge systems. These knowledge systems have come into being as the culture has remained in the same ecological position for generations, using natural remedies for ailments and managing flora and fauna. Approaches to conservation requires support of indigenous cultures and languages.

Naming the Dragonfly: Why Indigenous Languages Matter in the 21st Century
By: James D. Nations
Langscape Magazine, 5:1
Key Words: Mexico, indigenous languages, language contact, Spanish, forest agriculture, stewardship
The Lacandón Maya have maintained their traditional ecological knowledge for centuries but now faces endangerment due to Spanish-language technology and education because it is embedded in their language. Long-held agricultural practices that conserve and protect the tropical forest and wildlife, names for plants and animals, and moral teachings are bound up with the language, which the author argues should be preserved for these reasons as well as its inherent right to exist.

Last updated: November 15, 2019