I am Tlingit Alaska Native. I am also a Plant Ecologist. I have been reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and was encouraged by her words in the book to dig in and learn more about the language of my Tlingit ancestors. A thread... (1/n)
Kimmerer says: "listening in wild places, we are audience to conversations in a language not our own. I think now that it was a longing to comprehend this language I heard in the woods that led me to science"... as a plant ecologist this was a very emotional thing for me...(2/n)
She then says that when she started trying to learn the language of her own ancestors (Potawatomi) she realized that the language structure gave her a connection to wild places that started to fulfill this desire to understand the natural world. (3/n)
In particular she describes Potawatomi as a verb based language. There are verbs for things that English only has nouns for. It's not just about remembering the word "bay" it's about knowing how to conjugate the verb for "being a bay." Her exploration of this is very powerful.
This made me start digging in more to the Tlingit alphabet, Tlingit greetings, and vocabulary. In particular @SHInstitute has some really amazing apps that help you jump right in. Last night I stayed up late reading through all of the plant words in Tlingit.
The vocal list has sections for "beach", "birds", "clothing", etc. As far as I can tell, the list for "plants" is by far the longest. There are words for hemlock (Yán) vs. Hemlock branches (Haaw). There are words for the heartwood of a tree (an idea we learn about in college).
There are words for every part of the spruce tree. There are words for sepals (A shakayaaní) and sprout germination (A shaadí). There are words for all of the plants I grew up with and all of their plant parts. There are words for every part of the tree.
I didn't grow up in Alaska but I grew up in a part of N. Washington with lots of overlapping species with SE Alaska (where the Tlingit tribe is from). I cannot overstate for you (native or not) how emotional it is to read a language created for an ecosystem you love.
This is not English, imposed on your study system. This is a language created in tandem with the structure and function of the ecosystem that you know deeply. This thread is to say: if you are an ecologist who follows me...
Particularly an American ecologist. Please go read some of the words from the vocabulary of one of the tribes that were originally located in your study system. Read through the words CREATED for the ecosystem you love. You will FEEL things doing this.
In fact, I would love to help anyone do this who is interested. If interested, send me the geographic area you study and the name of an indigenous tribe from that area. I will try to track down some of these words for you. The end.
So I'm going to try this for a few more ecosystems that I have known and loved. I know I will not get it right. Translation is an art and requires deep knowledge of the languages in question. But, from what I've read about language revitalization...
...it's more important to try and get it wrong, than to not try at all. So here goes. I lived in MN/WI for 10 years. There are grasslands, oak savannah, and lots of temperate deciduous forests. Ojibwe is one of the native languages of this area.
In Ojibwe, there is a word for sugar maple (aninaatig) but there is also a word for abundance that is tied up in the word for sugar maple (aninaatigokaa). This literally means there are lots of sugar maples (cool!) but also seems like abundance of any kind...
Can be conceptually related to the abundance of sugar maples. Makes sense. It's such a sugar mapley place! More here: https://ojibwe.lib.umn.edu/category/dictionary/trees