Shouting but Not Being Heard

In my search for a research topic, I stumbled upon eco-linguistics, an emerging field that studies language within both a social and ecological context. Sounds like it could be a good fit for me. My interest in the language of sustainability springs from my own background and lifelong fascination with words and language. My career path reflects a keen interest in how language can be used to shift behaviour; my first career was in advertising and communications, the second in environmental and sustainability education, with considerable overlap between the two. I did my undergrad in French and linguistics. A preliminary scan of the literature turned up a great conference, called “The Language of Sustainability: shouting but not being heard” which took place in April 2009 at the Institution for Environmental Sciences in London, England. In the keynote address, Arran Stibbe an ecolinguists professor at the University of Goucestershire, opens with:

“The subtitle of this conference, Shouting but not being heard, suggests failure. Our words are not reaching people; they’re not striking a chord; not touching them in a place that moves them into action. Where is that place that moves people…the heart, the mind, the imagination…the wallet perhaps? Or a sense of compassion, hope, fear, sadness, guilt, love, outrage about injustice. This is a question that cannot be answered because, quite simply, people are different. When you strike a tuning fork and bring it close to another one of the same size then both will resonate together, but if the other fork is slightly larger it will stay still, unmoved and unresponsive.”

He goes on to say:

“It’s important though, to draw a distinction between the ‘discourse of sustainability’ and ‘discourses which have an impact on sustainability’. Given the lack of progress after decades of talking about sustainability, the former is not necessarily one of the latter.”

Could it be that the very language we are using is actually having a negative impact on our progress in terms of becoming a more sustainable society? Discuss among yourselves.

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