Ecolinguistics : The weight of words on the world

The #ShortCourseSaturday series has been running for a few weeks now so I thought it was about time I had a go at one of these courses myself. I decided to try out The Stories We Live By – a course focused on using ecolinguistics, to understand how the stories we live by as individuals and a society, could be affecting the social and environmental issues we’re facing. The course was created by Arran Stibbe, Professor of Ecological Linguistics at the University of Gloucestershire, working alongside a team of volunteers.

The course is split into 9 parts, each section covering a different type of story that we tell ourselves in everyday life.

Here are 3 things I took away from this course and 3 reasons I think you should take it too:

1. Stories Are Everywhere

With a background in Marketing, I already felt pretty certain I understood the power of words. I recognise how it’s used it advertisements and on social media…

But frankly, before completing this course, I was pretty oblivious to how much language in everyday things affect the way we think, feel and act. I use the example given in the course of a weather report because this one resonated with me quite a bit…

“It’s going to be a gloriously sunny dayversus “I’m afraid we’re expecting some rain and fog”

At what point did we all decide sun was good and rain was bad? Understandably many people don’t like getting drenched, but personally I quite like walking in the rain (with a coat on and hood up!) – you get different smells and sounds, it’s quite relaxing.

Yet every day the weather report tells us sun is good and anything else is bad. No wonder holiday makers jump on a plane to jet off to sunny destinations, just to get their ‘bit of sun!’

But what is this mentality really costing us? Firstly, we’re not connecting with nature if it’s anything other than sunny… We’re also damaging the planet by travelling to far flung destinations for 7 days of rays… And we’re becoming desensitised to the significance of rising temperatures… When everyone is so focused on sunny weather, hearing the phrase ‘hottest summer on record’ doesn’t make the impact that it should.

2. Angle is everything

Even the smallest changes to a story can change the outcome of how we think, feel and act upon it. Take the climate crisis for example. It may be gaining attention but overall, the media continue to put it near the bottom of the priority list. We are told our biggest concerns are economic growth and terrorism… That these things will change our way of life and could pose an imminent threat. If environmental news gets a look in, it’ll be a tiny article of page 10 of a newspaper, barely distinguishable from the various adverts placed around it.

But if we were to reframe the climate crisis for what it really is – a security threat, a threat to our lives, then the angle changes completely. It has been reframed as an issue for everyone, not just environmentalists.

3. My words aren’t always my own

Most of us recognise that sales and marketing campaigns are worded to entice us, change the way we think and essentially, buy their stuff. Most of us also know that what we see on social media and in magazines is often based around a stereotype, and that it’s not ‘real life.’ And yet like so many others, I find myself judging my appearance, ethics, intelligence, interests and achievements based on the things I see and hear around me.

During this course I tried to look carefully at what wording I see on the social media or advertisement and how that may be impacting the way I think about myself and others.  Not surprisingly there’s a lot of phrases like…

‘beach body ready in just 30 days’ and ‘get firm, smooth skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.’

These stories that tell us that we need to look or act a certain way, can not only be detrimental to our mental wellbeing, but it can also impact the environment. We are plagued with messages that we need all these products to make ourselves look younger, fitter, stronger and more attractive… so we buy all their products!

This mass consumerism leads to more plastic, more testing on animals, more carbon dioxide from factories and transport, and more deforestation. Couple this with the pressures it puts on your mental health and confidence, and the story we’re hearing is a negative one indeed. I’d encourage everyone to consider what stories you are surrounding yourself with and telling yourselves, and see if you can improve those stories, for the benefit of yourself and the planet.

So, there you have it, 3 things that I learned from the course ‘Stories We Live By.’

Now here are 3 reasons why you should try it too!

1. I haven’t told you everything…

These are just 3 things that resonated with me most. But there are 9 sections to the course, each explaining different types of stories we live by and how they can affect us. So, there’s more to learn!

2. It’ll help you to identify stories in your own life…

Language is affecting your life in more ways than you probably realise. Being able to recognise and understand how those stories are impacting you and the planet, is an important part of working towards a sustainable future.

3. It’s FREE!

The course costs you absolutely nothing but you gain valuable knowledge. Plus, the course can be done at your own pace and the amount of work you put in is up to you. You can simply watch the videos or you can also complete some of the exercises that come with it. The choice is yours!

So, if you’d like to find out more about the course Ecolinguistics: The Stories We Live By, or give it a go yourself (it doesn’t take too long) then click here. I personally found it very insightful and it helped me to consider the stories I’m living by and how I can change those for the better. 

Nikki Rimell – Sustainability Communications Officer & BSc Geography student

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