Presenter Information

Margaret C. LuthinFollow

Presentation Type

Presentation

Faculty Mentor’s Full Name

Leora Bar-el

Faculty Mentor’s Department

Anthropology

Abstract

This research assesses the state of English nature vocabulary in Montana, defined here as words and terms relating to local species, weather, and topography. Studies have shown declining nature knowledge amongst English speakers as well as a marked decrease in the usage of nature words in English popular culture throughout the 20th century, and while research across disciplines points to a growing disconnect between humans and their environment, researchers have yet to investigate the role of vocabulary and language attrition in humans’ changing experience of nature. This study develops a new survey instrument to gather vocabulary data from Montanans, aiming to gauge depth and diversity of nature terminology knowledge as well as attitudes about language and environment. Demographic information gathered in the online survey is used to analyze trends in the data based on age, community type, and other participant features. Analysis of this data is based on UNESCO’s (2013) Language Vitality Assessment model, a framework designed to quantify language loss and investigate the drivers of language change; the project is also informed by research on environmental literacy and education. I propose that extending the language model to nature vocabulary will cast light on how vocabulary attrition or dynamics may be compared to well-established processes of language change, thereby advancing our understanding of language attrition. The project is the first quantitative assessment of nature vocabulary in the United States, and the survey instrument has potential for further development and use in other states.

Category

Social Sciences

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Loss for Words: An Investigation of the English Nature Vocabulary

This research assesses the state of English nature vocabulary in Montana, defined here as words and terms relating to local species, weather, and topography. Studies have shown declining nature knowledge amongst English speakers as well as a marked decrease in the usage of nature words in English popular culture throughout the 20th century, and while research across disciplines points to a growing disconnect between humans and their environment, researchers have yet to investigate the role of vocabulary and language attrition in humans’ changing experience of nature. This study develops a new survey instrument to gather vocabulary data from Montanans, aiming to gauge depth and diversity of nature terminology knowledge as well as attitudes about language and environment. Demographic information gathered in the online survey is used to analyze trends in the data based on age, community type, and other participant features. Analysis of this data is based on UNESCO’s (2013) Language Vitality Assessment model, a framework designed to quantify language loss and investigate the drivers of language change; the project is also informed by research on environmental literacy and education. I propose that extending the language model to nature vocabulary will cast light on how vocabulary attrition or dynamics may be compared to well-established processes of language change, thereby advancing our understanding of language attrition. The project is the first quantitative assessment of nature vocabulary in the United States, and the survey instrument has potential for further development and use in other states.