One of the things I really appreciate when there is much biodiversity present is the consequent richness in the language of the people who live surrounding these places. Some of my favorite words in the Hiligaynon language are “dagsa” (seasonal abundance of species like sardines or aloy/bullet tuna), “tibakla” (grasshopper), “ulang” (freshwater lobster), “doldol” (cotton tree), “tando-tando” (a pupa), “alimodias” (type or seed), “budyawi” (fruit of century palm tree), “murugmon” (common owl), “singgarong” (civet cat), among others, and I have to thank a childhood growing up with all other free-range kids between the “baybay” and the “uma” for enriching my local language vocabulary of the natural world. However, when you think of it, some of these we have not heard spoken in a long time, and even in those times they are mentioned, it was in the context of remembrance of things past.
We stop using words related to flora and fauna when we no longer use them in the lived context, when they are not there anymore. How many among us in this generation actually still know what these are: “budyong”, “sarali”, “sarisa”, “tukag”? While homogenization of cultures under globalization and capitalism has led to the imperialism of major languages and disappearance of certain words in our everyday vocabulary, monoculture farming, mono-cropping, deforestation, overfishing etc, are as much of culprits too. The declining environment and our changing relationship with it, also by extension, changes our relationship with language.
May 22 was the International Day for Biological Diversity. The natural world and culture are converging spheres that may not be obvious all the time but when we pay attention, we see how all is interconnected. The loss of biodiversity has led to the erosion of our own linguistic traditions. If this downward spiral continues, cultures and traditional knowledge will dramatically change too. If we care about who we are, then maybe there is hope to stop thinking about environmentalism as exclusive or as spatially and temporally distant cause.
Article written by Carm Novilla, YSEALI Academic Fellow.