A study that evaluated 37 idioms identified 645 different botanical species, 91 percent of which were present in the language of a single culture.
The cuneiform script has fixed the Akkadian language on clay, spoken five thousand years ago by the Assyrians of the Mesopotamian lands of present-day Iraq. Fallen into oblivion for three thousand years, in 1857 it was deciphered by the philologists of the Royal Asiatic Society with a work of 50 years. In 2010, the Assyrologist Martin Worthington of the University of Cambridge was thus able to make the docu-film The Poor Man of Nippur, recited in a language similar to Akkadian. The rediscovery of the Assyrian-Babylonian language intersects with the results of a study published by researchers of the Department of Evolutionary and Environmental Biology of the University of Zurich in the scientific journal Pnas (Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences) which denounces the risk of losing more than 30% of the 7,400 languages known today by this century due to the physical or cultural extinction of the peoples who use them. We are not talking about Italian, French or German, but about languages of the indigenous people of remote areas of the Amazon or New Guinea who use particular idioms and where knowledge and traditions are passed down only verbally from one generation to the next.
The loss of the language would make an immense wealth of information on medicinal plants vanish: by evaluating 37 languages alone, the Swiss study identified 645 different species, 91% of which were present in the language of a single culture. Linguistic extinction threatens the social knowledge of the ethnic group to which it belongs and its ability to recognize changes in the surrounding world-environment – says the ethnopsychiatrist Salvatore Inglese, professor at the Sagara School of Ethnopsychotherapy in Pisa -. The loss of the name of a specific plant entity involves the disappearance of its meaning (the so-called symbolic evaporation), so that a certain botanical species is no longer sought, cultivated and used..
Knowledge at risk
Plants with properties yet to be discovered can be thousands and are contained in the traditions of indigenous peoples for whose protection Unesco has launched a plan until 2032. The pandemic, associated with the recent exasperated climate change – underlines Inglese – must make us reflect on the risk that in societies different from ours and based on oral cultures or without written languages, epidemics can lead to death the generation of scholars which generally coincides with the elders of the community who have accumulated consolidated knowledge over time.
Lost popular tradition
Each culture builds its own botanical knowledge, specific and not communicating with other cultures, sometimes deliberately disguised why it is incomprehensible to people of other linguistic lineages: in the Pnas study it was 25% of the 12,495 plants examined. If these notions are lost, it is no longer possible to give a name to a certain plant – concludes Inglese – it will no longer be found, nor will it be sought because it will not be handed down by the language that first classified it, describing its possible use. Thus, the ability to grasp the details and recognition techniques of each plant in its taxonomic peculiarity which allowed its soothing or curative use in the popular medical tradition are lacking.
January 24, 2022 (change January 24, 2022 | 20:28)
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