Linguistics and environmental analysis
Earth Day (Saturday 22nd April) gives us pause to consider our relationship with the planet we call home. Now over fifty years old, themes have been numerous over the decades. From initially tackling pollution, global warming and promoting clean energy to providing decent water quality and combatting food management and ‘fast fashion’.
Yet the focus has always been firmly grounded on what we can do to reconnect our human world with the larger one: to stop putting up the shutters and acknowledge that the planet deserves more respect than we have been showing it. Many organisations use Earth Day as opportunity to demonstrate what they are doing to combat a myriad of ecological issues. You may remember that in 2016, the “Paris Agreement” – a revolutionary climate accord, was signed at the United Nations on that year’s Earth Day. So, I thought this month would be a good opportunity to showcase a little on linguistics and environmentalism for our Applied Linguistics blog series.
This year’s Earth Day theme is ‘Invest in Our Planet’ (Earthday, 2023) with its pledges focusing on planting more trees, supporting sustainable fashion, ending plastic pollution, attending clean-ups and pushing for better climate literacy. This last point on ‘climate literacy’ piqued my interest and got me thinking about how our own field of linguistics can play a part in discussion of environmental issues and how an applied linguistics approach could be used to assist groups who develop environmental materials and resources. So, what have I uncovered from a quick review of the literature?
Ecolinguistic Discourse & ECO-pedagogy
First, we have a handy term: ‘ecolinguistics’ (others include: ‘ecological linguistics’ or ‘green-linguistics’). In usage since the 1990s, it often focuses on communicative resources humans use to discuss animals, plants, the forests, rivers and other physical environments too (The International Ecolinguistics Association, 2023).
Much of this ecolinguistic analysis also seems centred primarily on the linguistic fields of discourse analysis and education. Researchers investigate various text types, institutional policy-making and educational resources too. So, let’s take a look at a few recent studies (note: references & DOIs below!)
Molek-Kozakowska (2021), through a critical discourse analysis, used several online manifestos from UK, US and Polish activist groups to explore the discursive work done to counter “elite” (or hegemonic) understandings of climate action. They investigated how groups use language, rhetoric and visualisation to self-represent their causes, discuss their ‘mission’, their ‘passions’ and talked about ‘mobilisation’.
On the other hand, a recent study from Colston & Thomas (2019) investigated the stylistic word-choices in children’s books published by conservative US authors that promoted ideologies of “climate-change denial” concluding that scepticist language posed significant pedagogic issues for educators, environmental advocates and communication experts.
In classroom settings, Zummo (2023)’s conversation analysis focused on the divided climate change stances in the casual discourse of a 9th grade class and examined how young people discursively make sense of these issues. Continuing with pedagogy, Goulah (2017) considered how educators could incorporate ecological concerns into TESOL materials using a discourse analytic and ethnography of communication approach. To top things off, we have De la Fuente’s (2022) fantastic new edited book Education for Sustainable development in Foreign Language Learning. Its chapters stress how “sustainability literacy” should form a part of all second language learning. A global issue for a global communicative process no doubt.
Eco-linguistics really does seem to lend itself well to a wealth of social, economic and political areas and undoubtedly will form a larger part of how many of us investigate language in the coming future.
Before you go!
Whether student or staff, if you want to get involved in some climate action, Go Green Week in Swansea takes place towards the end of April 2023 following Earth day. A beach clean run by Sustainability SU takes place on 3rd May 13:00-15:00. Also, take a look at what Swansea’s own green charity, the Environment Centre, is up to over the next weeks!
Colston, N. & Thomas, J. (2019). Climate change skeptics teach climate literacy? A critical discourse analysis of children’s book. Journal of science communication, 18. https://doi.org/10.22323/2.18040202
De la Fuente, Maria (Ed.) (2022). Education for Sustainable development in Foreign Language Learning. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesq.277
Molek-Kozakowska, K. (2021). Environmental activism as counter-hegemony? A comparative critical discourse analysis of self-representations of radical environmental organisations. Language and intercultural communication, 21, 717-733. https://doi.org/10.1080/14708477.2021.1979570
Goulah, J. (2017). Climaye Climate Change and TESOL: Language, Literacies, and the Creation of Eco-Ethical Consciousness. TESOL Quarterly, 51, 90 – 114.
Zummo, L. (2023). Climate change and the Social World: Discourse Analysis of Students’ Intuitive Understandings. Science & Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-022-00416-1
Earthday (2023, April 17). Earth Day 2023 https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2023/
International Ecolinguistics Association (2023, April 17). About. https://www.ecolinguistics-association.org/