Children’s Language about the Environment

Authored by: Bryan Wee , Hillary Mason

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138782877
eBook ISBN: 9781315768946
Adobe ISBN: 9781317667964

10.4324/9781315768946.ch31

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Abstract

The environment, for all its intended simplicity, is framed by cultural perceptions and preferences that underlie environmental decision-making. Put another way, the environment means different things to different people. In a world that is increasingly subject to a wide range of global environmental impacts, there is a need for anthropological research that elucidates how the environment is interpreted and valued by different cultures. Culture refers to the ways by which landscapes are interpreted as text, one that is inscribed in social patterns and learned behaviors over time (Balée and Erickson 2006). Specific to our chapter, we recognize the environment as a social construct that is made intelligible through the use of cultural norms such as language, thereby giving form to what Matthews (1995: 285) calls “the raw materials of our social and material existence.” Similarly, Balée and Erickson (2006: 9) use the term ecological episteme to describe “a way of knowing the environment that has its origins in the particular relationship it has had over time to local landscapes and to their metamorphosis at human hands.” These socially constructed realities, or epistemes, are conditioned by our interactions with the environment and manifested in our language about the environment. Language structures our understanding of ourselves and of the landscapes we make an impact on. Without language, there would be neither common values nor a shared sense of responsibility, both of which are at the center of efforts to protect conditions that support life (Stibbe 2014). This chapter provides an expanded understanding of language as the encoding of particular social realities (Stibbe 2012), and how it shapes individual as well as collective perspectives about the environment.

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