Funding Success: The Symbiotic Relationship between Language and Nature in Southern and Eastern Arabia

Congratulations to Professor Janet C.E. Watson, who has received an AHRC Network grant to investigate the symbiotic relationship between local languages and nature in Southern & Eastern Arabia through a multidisciplinary network of ecosystem and humanities scholars from the UK, North America, Russia, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia, and representatives from local social groups in Southern and Eastern Arabia.

Local languages are under threat in many parts of the world. This is of global concern because indigenous languages reflect the close relationship between people and their natural environment. When the languages are lost, these connections are broken. Areas of the world which enjoy the greatest language diversity tend to exhibit the greatest biodiversity, and loss of the one commonly precipitates loss in the other (http://www.pnas.org/content/109/21/8032.long).

This network selects Southern and Eastern Arabia as a case study to examine biocultural diversity for three main reasons:

a) The region shows a range of significant and rapidly depleting linguistic and bio-diversity;

b) A significant body of linguistic and ecosystem data from the region is available to the team;

c) Within the academic field of biocultural diversity, there is little focus on SE Arabia.

The success of traditional Southern and Eastern Arabian communities is contingent on their knowledge expressed linguistically of the tides, winds, weather, fishing conditions and cultivation. In this region, we are experiencing a last moment in time when members of the generation of the pre-motorised past are still alive; thus we can observe the effect erosion of the environment and the human–environment relationship is having on language in real time, and can act to revitalise languages and the environment through local capacity building and production of sample interactive e-books in local languages for children.

This 24-month interdisciplinary project will commence in summer 2017.