Ecolinguistics emerged in the 1990s as a new paradigm of linguistic research which took into account not only the social context in which language is embedded, but also the ecological context in which societies are embedded. Michael Halliday's 1990 paper New ways of Meaning: the challenge to applied linguistics is often credited as a seminal work which provided the stimulus for linguists to consider the ecological context and consequences of language. Among other things, the challenge that Halliday put forward was to make linguistics relevant to the issues and concerns of the 21st century, particularly the widespread destruction of ecosystems. The main example Halliday gave was that of 'economic growth', where he described how the orientation of the English language with regard to unmarked terms such as large, grow, tall, and good gives growth a positive aspect, despite the negative ecological consequences. Since Halliday's initial comments, the field of ecolinguistics has developed considerably, primarily in the direction of analysing the ecological impact of specific discourses rather than languages in general. The main online research forum for ecolinguistics, the Language & Ecology Research Forum, characterises ecolinguistics in this way:
"Ecolinguistics examines the influence of language on the life-sustaining relationships of humans with each other, with other organisms and with the natural environment. Research ranges from the impact of advertising discourse in encouraging ecologically damaging consumption to the power of nature poetry to encourage respect for the natural world."
There are two main approaches which use the term 'ecolinguistics' and they can be glossed as 'eco-critical discourse analysis' and 'linguistic ecology'.
Eco-critical discourse analysis
Eco-critical discourse analysis includes, but is not limited to, the application of critical discourse analysis to texts about the environment and environmentalism, in order to reveal hidden assumptions and hidden messages and comment on the effectiveness of these in achieving environmental aims (e.g. Stibbe 2012, Harré et al. 1999). In its fullest formation, it includes analysis of any discourse which has potential consequences for the future of ecosystems, such as neoliberal economic discourse and discursive constructions of consumerism, gender, politics, agriculture and nature (e.g. Goatly 2000, Stibbe 2004). Eco-critical discourse analysis does not just focus on exposing potentially damaging ideologies, but also searches for discursive representations which can contribute to a more ecologically sustainable society. Approaches such as ecosemiotics (Selvamony 2007), environmental communication and ecocriticism have broadly similar aims and techniques to eco-critical discourse analysis.
The term 'linguistic ecology' was first used in an article on the "language situation" in Arizona (Voegelin, Voegelin and Schutz, 1967). It was taken up by Einar Haugen, who pioneered a form of linguistics which used the metaphor of an ecosystem to describe the relationships among the diverse forms of language found in the world, and the groups of people who speak them. Whether Linguistic Ecology is a form of ecolinguistics or is more suitably characterised as sociolinguistics is a controversial issue. Linguistic Ecology looks at how languages interact with each other and the places they are spoken in, and frequently argues for the preservation of endangered languages as an analogy of the preservation of biological species. Some claim that this is not ecolinguistics because the focus is on language rather than the impact of language on actual biological/physical ecosystems. However, others have argued that separation of the metaphorical 'linguistic ecology' from ecolinguistics would be reductionist (Steffensen 2007), because high linguistic diversity is associated with high biological diversity (see Bastardas-Boada 2002). The relationship between linguistic diversity and biodiversity is claimed to arise since local ecological knowledge is built into local language varieties and threatened if the local language is threatened by a more dominant language (see Mühlhäusler 1995). A compromise position is that Linguistic Ecology is a form of ecolinguistics if the 'end' being sought is the preservation of the actual ecosystems that support life and the 'means' is through preserving language diversity, but a form of sociolinguistics if language diversity itself is the only 'end' sought (Stibbe 2010).
Language & Ecology Research Forum (http://www.ecoling.net)—contains a wide range of resources including the online journal Language & Ecology, and an international network of ecolinguists
The Ecolinguistics Website (http://www-gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at/ed/project/ecoling)
- Bastardas-Boada, Albert (1996) Ecologia de les llengües. Medi, contactes i dinàmica sociolingüística [Ecology of languages. Context, contacts and sociolinguistic dynamics]. Barcelona: Proa.
- Bastardas-Boada, Albert (2002) "Biological and linguistic diversity: Transdisciplinary explorations for a socioecology of languages" Diverscité langues, vol. VII.
- Bastardas-Boada, Albert (2002) "The Ecological perspective: Benefits and risks for Sociolinguistics and Language Policy and Planning", in: Fill, Alwin, Hermine Penz, & W. Trampe (eds.), Colourful Green Ideas. Berna: Peter Lang, pp. 77–88.
- Bastardas-Boada, Albert (2007) "Linguistic sustainability for a multilingual humanity" Glossa. An Interdisciplinary Journal vol. 2, num. 2.
- Calvet, Jean-Louis (1999) Pour une écologie des langues du monde. Plon
- Döring Martin & Francesca Zunino (2011) NatureCultures in Old and New Worlds. Steps towards an Ecolinguistic Perspective on Framing a 'New' Continent. In S. V. Steffensen & A. Fill (eds) "Ecolinguistics: the Ecology of Language and Science". Language Sciences, Special Issue
- Fill, Alwin (1996): "Ökologie der Linguistik - Linguistik der Ökologie." In: Alwin Fill (ed.): Sprachökologie und Ökolinguistik. Tübingen: Stauffenburg Linguistik. Pp. 3–16.
- Fill, Alwin and Peter Mühlhäusler (2001) The ecolinguistics reader. London: Continuum.
- Goatly, Andrew (2000) Critical reading and writing: an introductory coursebook. London: Routledge
- Halliday, Michael (1990) New ways of meaning: the challenge to applied linguistics. Reprinted in Fill and Mühlhäusler (2001) pp175–202
- Harré, Rom and Jens Brockmeier and Peter Mühlhäusler (1999) Greenspeak: a Study of Environmental Discourse. London: Sage.
- Mühlhäusler, Peter (1995) Linguistic Ecology; Language Change and Linguistic Imperialism in the Pacific Rim. London: Routledge.
- Sánchez Carrión, José María (1985): "La nueva sociolingüistica y la ecología de las lenguas". Donostia-San Sebastián: Eusko Ikaskuntza.
- Selvamony, Nirmal; Alex, Rayson K. (eds.) (2007). Essays in Ecocritics. New Delhi: OSLE.
- Steffensen, Sune Vork (2007): "Language, Ecology and Society: An introduction to Dialectical Linguistics." In: Bang, Jørgen Christian and Jørgen Døør (eds) Language, Ecology and Society. A Dialectical Approach. Edited by Sune Vork Steffensen and Joshua Nash. London: Continuum. Pp. 3–31.
- Stibbe, Arran (2012) Animals Erased: Discourse, Ecology and Reconnection with the Natural World. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press
- Stibbe, Arran (2010) Ecolinguistics and globalisation. In Nikolas Coupland (ed) The Blackwell Handbook of Language and Globalisation. London: Blackwell
- Stibbe, Arran (2004) 'Masculinity, health and ecological destruction' Language & Ecology available http://www.ecoling.net/articles
- C.F. Voegelin, F. M. Voegelin and Noel W. Schutz, Jr. The language situation in Arizona as part of the Southwest culture area" in Studies in Southwestern Ethnolinguistics: Meaning and history in the languages of the American Southwest, ed. by Dell Hymes and William E. Bittle, 403–51, 1967. The Hague: Mouton.