Sunday, February 5, 2017

Is there a #phenology of language?

We know that there's some sort of bioregionalism to language. British English certainly isn't the same as American English. There are numerous indigenous languages, many of which are endangered. That's not quite what I'm thinking about here.

carved stone table at Open Book
carved stone table at Open Book
Photo by J. Harrington

Languages change over time. Words come and go, some stay but change their meaning. As seasons change, and climate change modifies the seasons as we've known them, presumably language could change to reflect the world to which it relates. Robert Macfarlane has written Landmarks to capture much of the local vernacular of placewords in Britain. David Lukas' Language Making Nature is a forward-looking tool to enrich our relationship with nature by creating new words.

window display at open book
window display at open book
Photo by J. Harrington

All of this started burbling about in the back of my mind as I once again discovered how incorrect I've been with some of the stereotypes I've used to track the world. Until recently, much of my thoughts about Kansas were dominated by the book What's the Matter with Kansas? I also thought, more positively from time to time, about Wes Jackson's Land Institute in Salinas. Reading William Least Heat-Moon's PrairyErth added some depth but wasn't particularly transformative. Yesterday, I came across the Kansas Area Watershed Council's web site. They've been publishing a bioregional journal for about two decades. That certainly doesn't fit the impression I was left with after reading "What's the Matter..."

This has been prompted because I keep feeling as though Minnesota is missing some (undefined) key pieces of the puzzle to move ahead successfully with Governor Dayton's proposal for a water ethic. If we aren't as successful as we should be, I won't be surprised to read, in the not too distant future, someone's version of What's the Matter with Minnesota? It may present an erroneous stereotype, but how many will care enough to look behind any presumed indifference to protecting our most critical resource? We can't, and don't, all live upstream.

Words are Birds


By Francisco X. Alarcón


words
are birds
that arrive
with books
and spring

they
love
clouds
the wind
and trees

some words
are messengers
that come
from far away
from distant lands

for them
there are
no borders
only stars
moon and sun

some words
are familiar
like canaries
others are exotic
like the quetzal bird

some can stand
the cold
others migrate
with the sun
to the south

some words
die
caged—
they're difficult
to translate

and others
build nests
have chicks
warm them
feed them

teach them
how to fly
and one day
they go away
in flocks

the letters
on this page
are the prints
they leave
by the sea

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