Current mailing address:
Porfirio Diaz 211 Altos/Centro
Apartado Postal 891
Ciudad de Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
EUGENE HUNN is Professor of Anthropology at University of Washington at Seattle. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1973 and has been on the UW faculty since. His scholarly interests are centered in ethnobiology, particularly the cognitive and ecological aspects of that field. He has done ethnobiological field research among Tzeltal Mayan speakers in Chiapas, Mexico (1971) ("Tzeltal Folk Zoology: The Classification of Discontinuities in Nature", Academic Press, New York, 1977). Since 1976 he has studied the ethnobiology and cultural ecology of Sahaptin-speaking Indian people of the Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest of North America ("Nch'i-Wana, The Big River: Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land", University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1990). He has also been involved in contract research for the National Park Service (U.S.) on subsistence issues in Alaska and has testified in court with regard to Pacific Northwest Native American resource and land rights. He is currently initiating a long-term ethnobiological/ethnoecological research project among Zapotec-speakers in southern Oaxaca, Mexico (cf. article "The utilitarian factor in folk biological classification", American Anthropologist 84:830-847, 1982).
A major determinant of biodiversity is endemism, i.e., the extent to which biological taxa are restricted in geographical range. This factor will be reflected in ethnobiological inventories (and affects their scientific value). If all species were universally distributed, differences among ethnobiological inventories would reflect only cultural variation; that is, how and/or if a given species were nomenclaturally recognized would depend only on its specific cultural value. The comparative study of ethnobiological knowledge systems would remain of anthropological interest but would contribute somewhat less to biological knowledge. However, since species vary in the extent of their geographical ranges, variation among ethnobiological systems will reflect not only cultural but also biological diversity, since nomenclatural recognition first of all requires that a species exist locally. Ethnobiological diversity will "capture" biological diversity in proportion to the cultural and/or linguistic endemism within a region. I will offer a preliminary assessment of variation in the ethnobiological inventories of four Zapotec languages spoken today in Oaxaca, Mexico, a region of exceptional biological diversity, in an attempt to identify factors that have created the existing diversity among these languages and forces likely to affect that diversity in the near future, in particular by reducing cultural [e.g., growing dependence on wage labor outside the community and on cash crops], linguistic [e.g., adoption of Spanish names for native and introduced flora and fauna], and biological [e.g., conversion of native plant communities to cash crop production] endemism in the region. A preliminary conclusion: patterns of Spanish loan replacement in these languages are inversely correlated with endemism of taxa named.
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