University of Yaounde I: First-ever PhD Defense on Ecolinguistics Unveils Linguistics-oriented Solutions to Combat Climate

By Beng Humphrey Fang

“If culture was a house, then language was the key to the front door, and to all rooms inside”, Khaled Hosseni is well known for this saying. By his meaning of this, someone without a language does not or cannot have a home to live in and is a wanderer who lacks a belonging or identity.

Viewing language and communication importance in every aspect and domain of life is the kernel of a groundbreaking PhD defense and first-ever on Ecolinguistics in the Department of English Modern Letters in the University of Yaounde I.

In his work, Dr. Julius Mboh Angwa refuted claims and believes that breakthrough to the global problem of climate change can only come from the sciences. Defending on the topic “Stance in West African and Asian Climate Change Discourse: A Corpus-based Appraisal”, the Author of the best-selling novel, “Before Our Eyes” posits that the high use of hedges mostly by West Africans, Cameroon and Nigeria being a case study, in climate change discourses makes the problem of climate change appear not real to the masses who have a part to play to in seeking solutions to the problem of environmental degradation.

Hedges in West African climate change discourses by stakeholders, according to the scholar, does not only affect the understanding and reality of the problem of climate change by the population but shows the degree of commitment of stakeholders in seeking solutions to the issue. Like Asian Climate Change discourses that contain and carry a lot of boosters, the Mboh Angwa notes that the imploration of this linguistic element in West African climate change discourses will go a long way to convince the masses and population believe that climate change is real.

The top-bottom approach that has been in use for a while now with only highly placed personalities, presidents, governors etc discussing and attending conferences on climate change, Dr. Mboh Angwa says, will not drive the world to the solution to the problem of Climate change.

The bottom-top approach which involves everyone as a stakeholder can yield a solution the global problem, he says.

Speaking to the press after the defense on Monday 15th June 2020, Dr. Angwa emphasised that communication, with language being its weapon, needs to be redefined in discourses related to Climate Change.

“Climate Change is a very sensitive issue in the world today. Over the years, people have always believed that climate change is an exclusive reserve for the sciences and have often depended on a scientific breakthroughs and international conferences and we feel that a linguistic perspective to Climate Change is very significant to coming up with Climate Change solutions”.

“So,” he said, “we believe that If we can re-orientate our communication, our orientation and the way we incorporate and define our ecosophy, can go a long way to mitigating climate change effects in our countries and the world.
The solution to Climate change comes from language and communication. Come to think of it. We have, for example, we inform. Climate change and environmental degradation comes from human actions. So humans are responsible for poor environmental conservation and all of that. Now, for you to change that kind of a behaviour, you need to modify the attitude, you need to change people’s perspectives towards the environment and people have to be re-orientated on how they relate with the environment.

This is why we are currently exploring different aspect s talking about ecosophical availability of cameroonian stories. We have western scholars who are interested in the stories we live by. They believe that the stories that should be used to talk about climate change should not be foreign or from the western nations. The stories should come from the context. We should already start thinking more of bottom-up approaches than top-bottom approaches, re-orientate local communities effectively”.

“Discourse and discussion on climate change have been monopolized significantly. We hardly find minor stakeholders addressing this issue. Most international conferences that are organised, the participation is largely the political class. We have presidents of countries, governors , representatives of different presidents. Why? It is because the international community believed that they can easily inspire positive agencies to different communities through the policy makers. That is why they work with major stakeholders. But we are of the opinion that they should not only work with major stakeholders. They should work with all stakeholders and humans in general as stakeholders to this issue because we share one thing in common, the environment. There’s a dire need for everyone to be involved to cultivate a positive attitude towards the environment and that can only come from communication, the way it is talked about or information is relayed to the population on the environment can change their understanding of the environment and start conserving it.”

“So, the objective of this work or research was to find out the level of major stakeholders’ commitment to Climate change solutions and that can only be linguistically explored. There are linguistic variables that can help us understand levels of commitment to the truth value of whatever they say,” he explained.

Dr Charles Alobwede, Co-supervisor of the candidate commended the effort and bravery of the of Dr. Angwa, noting that “The candidate is a very hardworking candidate and that’s why he picked up such a challenging topic within the framework of Ecolinguistics and he is breaking new grounds in the Department of English because Ecolinguistics which deals with corpus linguistics is not within the Department of English. That is why the examiners were all purely linguists. It falls within the framework of linguistics”.

“It was,” Doctor Alobwede said, “a challenging topic and it was challenging to work with him. When he brought the topic to us, the supervisor, Professor Samuel Atechi and myself, the co-supervisor , he had to convince us that it was not a Geography related topic but a linguistics related topic. That’s why we asked him the go ahead to carry out the research.”

Professor Stephen Mforteh Ambe, President of the jury and head of department of English Modern Letters and researcher at the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation, says
“Everything uses language as a medium of expression. Be it History, Economics, Science, language is used. So, climate change requires that it should be explained to the common person using language. And Ecocriticism, Ecolinguistics is a new trend that people have ignored for a very long time. We are happy with this one because it breaks out of routine and it takes on something that is innovative both in the area of research and the analytical procedures.”

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