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Documenting ethnobotanical knowledge among Gújjolaay Eegimaa speakers

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Title: Documenting ethnobotanical knowledge among Gújjolaay Eegimaa speakers
Authors: Sagna, Serge
Issue Date: 01 Mar 2013
Description: The goal of this paper is to provide an account of the documentation of the ethnobotanical knowledge and classification among the speakers of Gújjolaay Eegimaa, an endangered Atlantic and Niger-Congo language spoken by less than 10,000 speakers in Southern Senegal. The assumption made here is that language documentation seeks, among other things, to capture the individual and collective theoretical and practical knowledge and experience of a people about their environment. Such knowledge is, as argued in the literature, encoded in language e.g., in noun class systems where plant names and other nouns are grouped into classes (Coelho, 2006, Foley, 1997, Messineo and Cúneo, 2011) reflecting the way speakers categorise entities which make up their world (D'Andrade, 1995).

The paper discusses the strengths and limitations of the research techniques used during the documentation of the Eegimaa speakers’ ethnobotanical knowledge. These techniques include native speaker intuition, elicitation, participant observation, collaborative work with a native speaker botanist and a woodworker.

Additionally, I will examine the classification of plant names in the Eegimaa noun class system. I will argue that in Eegimaa, the grammatical classification of plant names reflects a conceptual categorisation of plants. This means that plants are not assigned to classes on the basis of taxonomic criteria, but based on their physical properties like shape and also culture-specific criteria. For example, plants having a round shape fu-ttara ‘bambu’ and fi-ssisit ‘kind of grass’, are assigned to class 7 fu- which includes prototypically round objects. On the other hand, plants in class 12 ñu- are those that constitute private property and play and central role in the economy and social organisation of Eegimaa people. Further evidence that plants are not arbitrarily assigned to noun classes comes from the formation of collectives (Author 2011, 2012), where class 3 e- functions as a collective class for plants that grow in colonies i.e. those like é-gabal ‘lily plants (colony)’, e-rarah ‘colony of Ipomea asarifolia’, that tend to choke other plants that grow in the same area.

This paper shows that the classification of plant names and other nouns is more semantically based then is generally assumed in the literature (Richardson, 1967, Schadeberg, 2001). It also emphasises the importance of interdisciplinary collaborative research and the use of various data collection methods to provide a comprehensive documentation of the knowledge speakers have of their environment.
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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