ECOLINGUISTICS IN BRASÍLIA
Hildo Honório do Couto
Hildo Honório do Couto
University of Brasília, Brazil
The purpose of this paper is to give an overview of what has been done in Brasília (Brazil)* during the last 13 years in terms of ecolinguistics. In 1999 I finished a report on my postdoc program at CUNY (New York) and published it on the internet with the title of Contato interlinguístico: da interação à gramática (215 p.) (Interlingual contact: from interaction to grammar), available http://www.ecoling.unb.br/images/Formacao.pdf . This was certainly the first ecolinguistics monograph ever written in Brazil. Then I taught two courses at the graduate level and one at the undergraduate level on the subject, and supervised an M.A. thesis and, subsequently, a Ph.D. thesis by the same student (Fábio José Dantas de Melo) on the language/community of the Calon Gypsies living nearby Brasilia. In the present moment, I am supervising the research of three Ph.D. students. Altair Martins Gomes is working with the adaptation of rural dialect speakers to the speech of urban Brasília. Davi Borges de Albuquerque is investigating the language ecology of East Timor. Gilberto Paulino de Araújo is conducting research in an ex-maroon community of Northern Brazil. He investigates how members of this conservative community designates plant species of their environment, and whether this ethnobotanical knowledge is being transmitted to the new generations.
Eight years after the postdoc report I published a thick book (462 pages) of introduction to ecolinguistics (Couto 2007). It contains nine sections, with five to seven chapters each. One of its main innovation, if any, is the suggestion to include in ecolinguistics what has been done in ethnosciences, although up to a certain point this had already been done by the ecolinguist Mühlhäusler (2001). By the way, the volume in which his essay appeared is entirely dedicated to the subject (Maffi 2001). In 2009 I published a second ecolinguistics book (Couto 2009a) in which I explored the subject of 'language contact' in the framework of our discipline, emphasizing the movements of populations in space. In the same year, Elza K. N. N. do Couto, professor of the University of Goiânia, initiated a postoc program in Brasília under my supervision. She is investigating the language and culture of a small community of Kalderash Gypsies also from an ecolinguistic point of view. Right now she is teaching the course 'Ecolinguistics' to undergraduate students using my 2007 publication as a handbook. We are preparing a book on the language of this community.
We follow Haugen's definition of 'language ecology/ecology of language' almost literally, namely, "language ecology may be defined as the study of interactions between any given language and its environment". According to him, "the true environment of a language is the society that uses it" (Haugen 2001: 57). However, we do not use ecological concepts as metaphors. We DO ecology, once we study an 'ecosystem', namely, the 'language/linguistic ecosystem'. Following some investigators, we added two other 'environments' (beside the 'fundamental environment of language') to this, i.e., the mental, as in generative grammar, and the physical or natural environment, as in those philosophies of language that emphasize its referential side. Each of them is part of an ecosystem. Døør & Bang (1996) have a similar position. They say: "By environment we refer to the ideological environment (the mental organization), the biological environment (the physical organization), and the sociological environment (the social organization) in their dialectical relations". For more details, see my two books mentioned above as well as (Couto 2009b), in English.
Following Makkai (1993) as well as some ideas of Peter Finke and Hans Strohner, we think that ecolinguistics should study not only the 'exoecology' of language but also its 'endoecology'. Nor should it be dedicated only to environmental questions because this is also possible to be done in the framework of discourse analysis, at least up to a certain point. In this sense, I began by studying the Portuguese prefixes 're-' and 'des-' (de-, un-). I concluded that semantically they represent two of three of our actions in the world, as illustrated with the French words faire (to do, do make), défaire (undo), refaire (redo). I also suggested that these actions represent the natural cycle of 'coming to life', 'dying out' and 'coming to life again', i.e., the recycling of matter. We also showed in the ecology of spatial relations that spatial expressions (in this case, spatial prepositions) represent the relations we detect in the world (see Couto 2009b). Temporal and ‘abastract’ relations are derived from them.
We concluded that it is not possible to study 'grammar' without reference to the environment of language, or its exoecology. Let us see two examples from syntax. First, the famous phrase Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, proposed by Chomsky in 1957. The reason for its strangeness is exactly the opposite of what he believed. It is because it does not correspond to anything in the world. Second, let us look at concord/agreement ("concordância" in Portuguese). We know that in every language it exists there is a tendency for its disappearance in certain contexts, such as popular dialects and some other informal registers of the language. In Portuguese, as well as in Italian and Spanish, the verb must agree in number with the subject, as in ‘Ele ama Maria’ (He loves Mary) X ‘Eles amam seu país’(They love their country), and the complements of the head noun inside a noun phrase must agree with it in number and gender, as in ‘O meu filho ([the] my son) X ‘Os meus filhos ([the] my sons’)/as minhas filhas ([the] my daughters). In rural and popular varieties of Brazilian Portuguese this agreement is highly simplified, with a tendency to maintain the number inflexion only on the determiner of the noun phrase in subject-verb agreement, i.e., ‘Os homem alto’ (the tall men) X ‘Os homens altos’ of Standard Portuguese.The subject-verb agreement tend to disappear in these circumstances: ‘As menina chegô’ (the small girls arrived) X ‘As meninas chegaram’ (the small girls arrived) in Standard Portuguese. The reason is that agreement is the result of a redundancy of inflexions, it is a marked feature. Whenever the pressure from the standard language relaxes, redundancies and marked features tend to disappear because they are not indispensable for communication. Other examples of 'endoecological' studies may be seen in my 2007 book.
In regard to exoecological phenomena, we have examined the contact between Portuguese and Spanish on the Brazilian-Uruguayan border, from the perspective of the ecology of language contact. In some points of this border there is a river separating the two sides but in others there is nothing between them. Our investigation concentrated in the small town of Chuí, or Chuy on the Uruguayan side. Most studies of language contact deal only with systems: interference of system A into system B or vice-versa. In fact, in Chuí/Chuy, Spanish is the dominant language, including on the Brazilian side. According to the ecology of communicative interaction, these interferences are not the most important aspects of language contact. What really matters is, first of all, how people in such a situation interact verbally and not verbally. In the end we can see that their utterances may be wholly in Spanish (the majority), wholly in Portuguese, in a mixture of both, or one person speaking in Spanish and the other answering in Portuguese, or vice-versa. In general, local people are not aware of whether they are speaking language A or B. They simply communicate according to the usual way of communicating in their community. For a detailed discussion, see Couto (2009a, 2011).
In order to emphasize the dialectic interrelation between endoecology and exoecology of language, we begin with what came to be called the ecology of communicative interaction (Halliday used the expression 'The ecology of speech' in 1974, and Jørgen Bang talked about 'The ecology of communicative competence'). In fact, we know that what matters in the ecosystem is not the population of organisms nor its environment (habitat, niche, biotope) per se, but the interactions that obtain between organism and environment as well as between any two organisms of the population. The first type of interaction is corresponds to reference in language; the second, to communication. There are other homologies, such as the ones seen in the table reproduced below. Unfortunately it is not possible to comment on all these equivalences here. For more discussion, see the references.
- ecosystem - languistic ecosystem/community
- population - people (P)
- habitat (biotope, niche) - territory (T)
- inter-relations, interactionss: - language (L):
a) organism-world interaction - a') signification, reference
b) organism-organism interaction - b') communication (communicative interaction)
As we can see in the above table of equivalences, language is homologue to ecological interactions. Therefore we see language as the way the members of the community (language community, speech community) communicate historically in their day-to-day lives. This is how Eugenio Coseriu as well as Salikoko Mufwene, among others, conceive of it. The linguistic ecosystem may be seen as language community (LC) or speech community (SP). Speech community (communauté de parole, Interaktionsgemeinschaft, kommunikationsgemeinschaft) is a small local community where verbal interactions take place on a day-to-day basis. As to language community (communauté de langue, Sprachgemeinschaft), it is the larger domain of the languistic ecosystem. It is language seen from the optic of the system. The language community of Portuguese comprises Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe and East Timor. Speech communities are generally delimited by the investigator, as is the case with the ecological ecosystem at large. Thus, every local group of people whose members habitually interact between and among themselves may be considered a speech community, i.e., it may be delimited as such by the ecolinguist.
A speech communities may be monolingual, bilingual or multilingual. The first type may be called simple speech community’ when it is also monodialectal, whereas multidialectal, bilingual and multilingual SPs are complex speech communities. In other words, most language communities are complex. Simple communities are the exception, if they exist at all, not the rule.
Language contact happens in cases of bi-/multilingualism. By the way, language contact is simply communicative interaction (or attempt at it) among members of different language communities. It is a consequence of movement of populations from their original speech/language communities into another speech/language community. In short, it is a special kind of communication. Our approach to this subject is already hinted at above. Couto (1999, 2009a) are entirely dedicated to it.
Beside the authors mentioned above, our approach to ecolinguistics is also in line with what has been suggested by Adam Makkai, among others. Following Strohner (1996), who built on some ideas of Peter Finke, we have called this way of doing ecolinguistics ecosystemic linguistics (see Halliday's 'systemic-functional linguistics'). Strhoner presents ‘the computer metaphor', ‘the brain metaphor' and ‘the ecosystem metaphor'. According to him, the third metaphor is more in accordance with the needs of our time. We go further than that, since we do not use ecological concepst as metaphor. We study ecosystem, therefore our brand of ecolinguistics is ecosystemic linguistics. We think that ecosystemic linguistics complements the dominant trend in ecolinguistics sometimes called critical ecolinguistics, ecocritical linguistics, environmental linguistics etc.
In this ecosystemic trend of ecolinguistics, we postulated the three ecosystems of language mentioned above, namely the natural, the mental, and the social ecosystem of language. The natural ecosystem of language consists of a people (P), living in its territory (T) and speaking its own language (L). This triad represents the lay-person's conception. When s/he hears the name of an unknown language, the first question s/he asks is 'which people speaks it'. Upon hearing the answer, her/his second question is 'where do this people live'. The mental ecosystem of language consists of the mind/brain, more specifically of some neuronal connexions that take place in the left hemisphere. It has been studied by the neurosciences (neurolinguistics), psycholinguistics, connexionism and so on. In linguistics it is represented by Sydney M. Lamb's 'neurocognitive linguistics' (Lamb 2000). The social ecosystem of language is basically society. Haugen considered it, in our view wrongly, the only ecosystem of language.
Most theories of language reify it, considering it a thing located somewhere. Sometimes it is considered an instrument to do something as, for instance, to communicate, or as a closed and static organism or system. In this case the task of linguistics would be to describe its parts as well as the interactions that obtain among them. In our view, language is seen as a specific type of interaction or interrelationships, taking place in the natural ecosystem of language, sometimes in the mental or in the social, depending on the question we ask. If we ask whether language is a biological (natural) phenomenon (Schleicher, Chomsky), the answer is yes. If we ask whether it is mental (Chomsky), the question is also yes. Finally, if we ask whether it is a social phenomenon (sociolinguistics), the answer is in the affirmative. Integrating the three points of view, we might say that language is a biopsychosocial phenomenon. As I argued elsewhere (Couto to appear), ecolinguistics may be considered as a platform from which we can study any language phenomena from a unified point of view, 'the ecological point of view'.
Contrary to what has sometimes been said, and could be suggested by the above table, ecolinguistics does not transfer concepts from ecology in a mechanical and naive manner. These ecological concepts are used in a new context where they are reinterpreted and used for purposes slightly different from the biological ones. The new domain in which they are used is much broader than their domain in biology. To begin with, in ecolinguistics there is not only the natural (physical, biological) ecosystem but also the mental and the social ecosystem. There is a philosophical and a social side to ecology itself. Language is an ecology, consists of many ecosystems. Therefore, we study a special type of ‘ecosystem’, namely the linguistic/language ecosystem.
One question that might be asked is 'Why ECOlinguistics?' It has been discussed at length by competent scholars like Alwin Fill and Peter Finke, inter alia. The latter used the expression 'from the ecological point of view', which should be used instead of Quine's 'from a logical point of view'. In an age of diminishing diversity, both in nature and in culture, it is important to keep in mind that language is linked to life, not only because some authors consider it to be homologized to biological interactions but also because it is a parasite (or viral) species of the population (people), as Mufwene (2001) put it. It is an ecosystem in its own right. Døør & Bang (2001) are more specific on the subject. According to them "many linguists [...] do not seem to understand that linguistics is a life-science in general, and a life-science of and for human linguistic communication in particular". As Fritjof Capra argued, ecology is in sync with modern science (relativity theory, quantum mechanics), which has shown that the world is a web of interrelationships, not a whole composed of smaller parts. Besides this, in face of the growing degradation of the life resources on earth it is wise for even linguists to practice their science with an awareness of this fact. This is what we ecolinguists try to do.
Finally, I would like to add that unfortunately we have not yet explored the ecology of language learning, although my Ph.D. student Ronaldo Lima Jr. is beginning to work on it. In the near future we intend to stimulate other students to investigate it.
Couto, Hildo Honório do. 1999. Contato interlinguístico: da interação à gramática, 215p (ms).
_______. 2007. Ecolinguística: estudo das relações entre língua e meio ambiente. Brasília: Thesaurus.
_______. 2008. Chuí/Chuy: uma comunidade de fala, duas comunidades de língua. In: Jorge Espiga & Adolfo Elizaincín (eds.). Español y portugués: um (velho) novo mundo de fronteiras e contatos. Pelotas: EDUCAT, pp. 165-208.
_______. 2009a. Linguística, ecologia e ecolinguística: contato de línguas. São Paulo: Contexto.
_______. 2009b. On the so-callled complex prepositions in Kriol. Revue roumaine de linguistique vol. LIV, n. 3-4, pp. 279-294.
_______. 2011. Contato entre português e espanhol na fronteira Brasil-Uruguai. In: Mello, H.; Altenhofen, C.; e Raso, T. (eds.). Contatos linguísticos no Brasil. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 369-395. ISBN: 978-85-7041-868-5.
Døør, Jørgen & Jørgen C. Bang. 1996. Language, ecology & truth - dialogue & dialectics. In: Fill (ed.), pp. 17-25.
_______. 2001. Ecology, ethics and communication: An essay in eco-linguistics. In: Fill, Alwin; Hermine Penz & Wilhelm Trampe (eds.). Colourful green ideas. Bern: Peter Lang, pp. 415-433.
_______. to appear. Ecological approaches in linguistics: a historical overview. Language sciences, Special Issue, ‘Ecolinguistics: the Ecology of Language and Science’.
Fill, Alwin (ed.). 1996. Spachökologie und Ökolinguistik. Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag.
Haugen, Einar. 2001. The ecology of language. In: Fill, Alwin & Peter Mühlhäusler (eds.) The ecolinguistics reader. London: Continuum, pp. 57-66 (first published 1972).
Lamb, Sydney M. Neuro-cognitive structure in the interplay of language and thought. In: Pütz, Martin &Marjolijn H. Vespoor (eds.) Explorations in linguistic relativity. Amsterdam: Benjamins, p. 173-196, 2000.
Maffi, Luisa. (ed.) 2001. On biocultural diversity: Linking laguage, knowledge, and the environment. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Makkai, Adam. 1993. Ecolinguistics: ¿Toward a new **paradigm** for the science of language? Londres: Pinter Publishers.
Mufwene, Salikoko. 2001. The ecology of language evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mühlhäusler, Peter. 2001. Ecolinguistics, linguistic diversity, ecological diversity. In: Maffi (ed.), pp. 133-144.
Strohner, Hans. 1996. Die neue Systemlinguistik: Zu einer ökosystemischen Sprachwissenschaft. In Fill (ed.), pp. 49-58.
*This paper was read by Francesca Zunino during the “Primo Convegno Internazionale di Ecolinguistica / First International Conference on Ecolinguistics” (Asti, Italy, 26 - 28 June 2012).
Here are some of the M.A. and Ph.D. Dissertations that have been defended at the University of Brasília.
1. Fábio José Dantas de Melo. 2005. O calon dos ciganos do nordeste de Goiás: uma língua obsolescente (M. A. thesis, University of Brasília). Published as a book in the same year as:
Os ciganos calon de Mambaí – A sobrevivência de sua língua (Brasília: Thesaurus, 2005).
In 2008, Fábio José Dantas de Melo defended his Ph.D. thesis A língua da comunidade calon da região norte-nordeste do estado de Goiás (University of Brasília).
2. Altair Martins Gomes. A formação da fala brasiliense: contato de dialetos na cidade de Ceilândia, Distrito Federal (in progress).
3. Davi Borges de Albuquerque. A língua portuguesa em Timor-Leste: Uma abordagem ecolinguística (in progress).
4. Gilberto Paulino de Araújo. A relação entre língua, cultura e meio ambiente refletida no conhecimento etnobotânico dos kalunga (in progress).
5. We are preparing a book on the subject together.
Of lately, we set up the ecolinguistics journal ECOLINGUÍSTICA - REVISTA BRASILEIRA DE ECOLOGIA E LINGUAGEM (ECO-REBEL). Here is the address: