New times bring with themselves new challenges, even for old sciences – and linguistics is not an exception from this rule. Some come from new technological advances, some from the changes in geopolitical situations, still others are the results of applying the synergetic approach to different problems, allowing a completely new point of view on an age-old subject. In a sense, linguistics is especially prone to this particular approach, because language is what all human beings have in common, and every human being still has to resort to language in all their areas of activity.
One example of such an approach is a whole and relatively new discipline in the body of academic learning, called ecolinguistics. At a glance, such a combination may strike one as weird and even ridiculous – after all, it is hard to imagine spheres of learning that would be farther from each other than sciences dealing with language and environment respectively.
And yet, such connections were found, and the fact that ecolinguistics exists today as a discipline emphasizes the holistic nature of modern science – no aspect of this world can be said to exist in isolation. Everything is connected to something else, and we can gain additional insights from studying it from points of view that are not normally associated with the subject.
As a result, we have ecolinguistics – a discipline that is based on the assumption that language exists in close connection not only with cultural, sociological and economical, but ecological factors as well. And vice versa – discourses existing in particular language may have strong impact on the psychology of people using it and, consequently, on the ecological situation of environments they live in.
Despite having appeared as a separate movement within linguistic science only as recently as in 1990, ecolinguistics has made considerable progress. However, it still has a vast field of work ahead of it, for so far the attention of the discipline has been mostly concentrated on the influence not of entire languages, but their isolated discourses on ecology – the so-called eco-critical discourse analysis. It is mostly concerned with linguistic analysis of texts on ecology, environment and environmentalism to discover underlying assumptions and messages that may not be evident from simple reading of the texts – in broader meaning, this movement studies all discourses that have or can potentially have any influence on ecology.
Linguistic ecology, on the contrary, studies languages from the ecological standpoint, believing that there are important analogies between the environment languages exist in and the environment in a more traditional sense of the word. Separate languages are treated as something akin to biological species, and the influence of humankind is perceived as either positive or negative for their well-being.
As a whole, ecolinguistics of today is still a fairly young science, with a long road ahead of it – before it can really make an impact it has to define more clearly its area of jurisdiction; still, it is fascinating to see the birth of a new science at the confluence of two older ones.