Ecological and cultural edges as sources of diversity for social-ecological resilience
In northwestern North America, Indigenous peoples speak over 50 languages grouped within several language families. Each language has its characteristic body of vocabulary, including numerous plant names and botanical terms. How does this botanical vocabulary reflect people’s Traditional Ecological Knowledge systems and the means by which knowledge is shared across Ecological and Cultural Edges? I compiled a database of plant species and their names, for 260 plants (and groups of closely related species) named in three or more of the region’s languages and examined these names for their similarities and differences within and across language families and geographic areas, as well as noting the cultural applications of the plants themselves.
Both cognates and borrowed names are common in these vocabularies, which reflect ancient, and more recent, connections across cultural and geographic boundaries. The terms also reflect shifts in meaning and use influenced by different geographic distributions of plants and other factors. Plant names are closely aligned with the cultural and ecological salience of species, and the degree of commonality in naming is a good indicator of widespread cultural importance of species as well as widespread exchange of knowledge, practice and belief among Indigenous peoples of the entire region. Sharing knowledge, such as that relating to plants, is an important practice supporting well-being and resilience across Indigenous communities.