Syesis: Vol. 7, S.1 (PDF)

Edited by Robert F. Scagel


Syesis was a scholarly journal published by the British Columbia Provincial Museum (now the Royal BC Museum) from 1968 to 1984.

August 1974, 104 pages

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Nancy J. Turner: Plant taxonomies of Haida, Bella Coola, and Lillooet Indians

Plant names in three Pacific Northwest Indian languages—Haida (Skidegate and Masset dialects), Bella Coola, and Lillooet (Fraser River “dialect”)—were analysed semantically and taxonomically. A computerized sorting system was developed to handle pertinent information associated with these names and their corresponding plant types.

At the present time, each language contains an average of about 150 generic-level plant names, over 50 per cent of which correspond in a one-to-one fashion with botanical species. Some of the names have no meaning other than as plant names, but most are analysable into smaller units of meaning, reflecting traditional beliefs, utilization, innate characteristics of the plants, or their resemblance to some substance, object, or other plant. Some of the generic terms are obviously borrowed from other languages, and a number of taxa can be found in each language which originally applied to indigenous species and have been expanded in recent times to include cultivated or imported counterparts.
Each language contains a few general “life-form” plant names, a number of intermediate taxa—usually unnamed, and in Haida and Lillooet, a few specific-level terms. None of the groups has an all-inclusive word for “plant.” There are also several specialized generic-level terms in each language, and many general names for parts of plants.

Cultural significance of plants correlates positively with the degree of specificity of names applied to them, with the number of specialized terms associated with them, and with the lexical retention of their names in diverging dialects. Linguistic origin, floristic diversity, cultural traits, intergroup contact, and especially the recent acculturation of native peoples into “white” society, are believed to be major factors influencing the character of phytotaxonomic systems of the three study groups.

Maps of the study areas are provided, and appendices are included listing all plant names used in the study, their botanical correspondence, and the utilization and cultural significance of the plants involved


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