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What's in a name? Keying into traditional linguistic knowledge to help unlock modern scientific mysteries

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Title:What's in a name? Keying into traditional linguistic knowledge to help unlock modern scientific mysteries
Authors:Bloyd, Tobias
Contributors:Bloyd, Tobias (speaker)
Date Issued:28 Feb 2013
Description:With the rise of global energy costs, calls for Hawaiian agricultural independence have increased. Many thousands of former plantation acres currently sit fallow, and many now see a return to subsistence farming as an economic feasibility.

In 2011 I participated in a survey of Big Island soils to help determine the level of arsenic contamination along the Hamakua coast. I learned during this survey that the state of Hawaii has rich soil diversity--190 distinct series are classified across the state (Uehara, 1994)--and interestingly, that the convention for naming newly discovered series of soil is to apply a moniker that corresponds to the location of discovery.

Now that the major plantations have left the islands, scientists face a formidable task in chronicling the lingering effects that generations of industrial farming have had on local ecologies. Although former plantation lands show great promise, I also discovered that there are many data gaps that complicate the prospects of implementing high-yield agricultural techniques. For instance, many areas around the islands have experienced drastic soil denudation from decades of monsoons over frequently plowed land, and other areas have seen complete restructuring of water tables where swamplands were drained for industrial use. In these sorts of situations, it might not be reasonable to assume that traditional crop cultivars will still thrive. Modern farmers are busy rediscovering appropriate crops and rotation cycles. Agricultural independence can become a Hawaiian reality, but it will require thoughtful planning and cooperation. Scientists must work with farmers in modifying traditional cultivars and techniques for today’s environmental conditions.

Where gaps exist for a region's historical agricultural record and conditional changes, cultural specialists and linguists can be called upon: soil-series names alone contain a treasure trove of metadata--both cultural and geographical--that can help unlock worlds of heuristically valuable information. Combined with the morphological richness of place names that have been checked by cultural experts against oral histories of a region, valuable information is available to assist politicians and planners in plotting a course forward for a self-sufficient Hawaiian tomorrow.

This paper details challenges facing the scientific community as it works to understand the radical changes to today's Hawaiian landscape, and it walks through specific scenarios in which collaborative work can reveal data that is useful for agricultural planning.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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