Anthropocene

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By HENRIQUE BRAGA & MARCELO MODOLO*

The probable ecological catastrophe can be avoided by the human being or consummated by him

In the field of linguistics, the correlation between language and reality is well known: words are not labels placed on things that already exist, but expressions of our way of seeing the world. This correlation became known as the Sapir and Whorf hypothesis. When studying the indigenous languages ​​of North America, Edward Sapir (1884-1939) and Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941) came to the conclusion that language is not “an instrument of communication”, as the structuralist linguistics of the time claimed, but rather a decisive factor in the formation of the vision of the world. The “real world” is constructed, unconsciously, through the linguistic patterns of the human group to which one belongs.

To exemplify how this occurs, we turn to a study by researcher Paulo Henrique de Felipe, who identified interesting correlations between the terms that designate kinship relationships and the way in which blood ties direct social relationships in the Mehinaku language (spoken by the people of the same name in the Mehinaku language). indigenous territory of the Xingu). In article published in the magazine Linguistic Studies of the Linguistic Studies Group of the State of São Paulo (GEL), the scholar highlights, among others, the terms “paˈpa” and “mãˈma”, which name, respectively, “father/father’s brother” and “mother/ mother’s sister ” (in a rough translation into Portuguese).

Among the Mehinaku people, therefore, “father” and “uncle” (provided that this uncle is the father's brother, not the mother's) form the same kinship relationship: when using a single word to refer to the father and the paternal uncle, the Mehinaku child is signaling, through his language, that the father's brother is also his father, that is, that he performs, in the community, the same social function as his biological father. The same occurs with “mother” and “aunt” (provided that this is “mother's sister”).

As you can see, names are not “just names”: by guiding our way of seeing the world, language gives meaning to our way of experiencing “reality”.

 

The invention of “climate change” and “global warming”

The exuberant exhibition “Amazônia” is on display at SESC Pompeia. Curated by Lélia Wanick Salgado, the exhibition features monumental photos by Sebastião Salgado and beautiful audiovisual resources. Among them, there are videos with testimonials by indigenous leaders from the photographed regions, describing difficulties that have been imposed on them by the action of non-indigenous people – including in the form of public policies.

In one of these testimonies, Afukaká Kuikuro, chief of the Kuikuro people, denounces how the “white man's” attacks on nature have caused immeasurable harm to survival in/of the forest. At one point, speaking of the harmful effects of human action, he ponders: “the white man calls it 'climate change'”.

Trying to analyze this linguistic expression from an indigenous perspective is a rich exercise in alterity. The term “climate change” calls the chief's attention, apparently because it sounds convenient, almost hypocritical. Without making explicit mention of the act of devastating and destroying the environment, we regularly adopt a noun that expresses a process, which ends up creating the impression that it is something in natural, spontaneous course.

Even the term “global warming” can be seen in this bias. Although “change” and “heating” can be (and in this case are) induced processes, the person responsible for this induction disappears in both expressions. From this point of view, it still seems a bit cheeky in our world to tell indigenous people that “climate change” or “global warming” is taking place, when what we have is the destruction of the environment.

 

Call it the “Anthropocene”

The scientific knowledge of geologists, archaeologists, geochemists, oceanographers and paleontologists already allows us to state that we have entered a new geological era, which has been called the “Anthropocene”. The term, by incorporating the Greek radical “antropo-” (“man”), explains the impacts of human action on the current climate crisis, making clear the role we have – some less, others much more – in this current state of affairs. Second article by José Eustáquio Diniz Alves, “The Anthropocene represents a new period in the history of the Planet, in which human beings have become the driving force of environmental degradation and the vector of actions that are catalysts for a probable ecological catastrophe.”

With some optimism, however, if the term “Anthropocene” explicitly points to human responsibility in a “probable ecological catastrophe”, it can also show us the possibility of intervening in this direction. Or, resorting once again to the wisdom of indigenous peoples, we can invest in Ideas for postponing the end of the world, the title of a brilliant essay by the indigenous leader Aílton Krenak – who recently received the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from UnB and needs to be heard more and more.

*Henrique Santos Braga He holds a PhD in Philology and Portuguese Language from USP.

*Marcelo Modolo is professor of philology at the University of São Paulo (USP).

Extended version of article published in Journal of USP [https://jornal.usp.br/?p=504802].

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