Via BLDGBlog comes to us the budding scientific discipline of soundscape ecology: "A new scientific field that will use sound as a way to understand the ecological characteristics of a landscape and to reconnect people with the importance of natural sounds."
The notion will have hordes of Deleuzian DJ's drooling all over their rare Mille Plateaux glitch 12"s but I am not convinced. In comparison to most other mammals the human species has as much talent for hearing as the ostrich has for flying. But sound is a way to know about things. Consider Micmac (Míkmaq) tree names.
In the Native American language Micmac, trees are named for the sound the autumn wind makes when it blows through the branches about an hour after sunset when the wind always comes from a certain direction.
Moreover, these names are not fixed but change as the sound changes. If an elder remembers, for example, that a stand of trees over there used to be called by a particular name 75 years ago but is now called by another, both names can be seen as scientific markers for the effects of acid rain over that time period.
Can you even imagine distinguishing a tree by the sound it makes? The detailed knowledge that goes into it (an hour after sunset, in autumn, when the wind comes from a certain direction) makes it even more esoteric and you would suspect a lively fantasy rather than an actual language but, even though I have not found a academic paper, this quote has appeared in a book published by Oxford University Press. That makes me trust it.
This segment is directly followed by the following quote that shows that in some languages edibility is embedded linguistic form, the source is the same interview with Susanna Romaine.
During World War II an American fighter plane returned from New Guinea into northern Australia, where it crashed. The four survivors had no compasses or navigational equipment but proceeded to set out to try to find help. Three starved to death with food all around them. Unlike the Aborigines, the Americans had no idea what was edible and inedible. Many of the trees and vines have parts that can be made edible if treated in certain ways. None of this knowledge is written down but is passed on orally from generation to generation, much of it encoded in the classification systems of Aboriginal languages, which group all edible fruits and the plants that bear them into one category. This knowledge is always only one generation away from extinction.