Accepted paper:

"The track is never the same": fluid ecotopes, changing landscapes, and mobility among the Ewenki people


Nadezhda Mamontova (University of Oxford)
Thomas Thornton (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation analyses the variation in meaning in basic landscape terminology, including ecotopes and related place names, in Siberian Ewenki, and what these 'fluid signs' reveal about people's experience of landscape, mobility patterns, and complex relationships with non-human beings.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation analyses results of research on the relationships between the Ewenki people's perception, experience, and cognition of landscape and ecotopes, the smallest ecologically-distinct landscape features. The Ewenki people are known for their reindeer herding and as the most widely spread indigenous community in Siberia and the Arctic. This research is based on linguistic data obtained from a number of Ewenki dialect communities, living in different terrains, and on the archival material by Soviet researcher Glafira Vasilevich. The results suggest that the uniqueness of the Ewenki landscape terminology lies in the fact that the same term can be linked to completely different landscape objects being, at the same time, semantically related to all those objects. This phenomenon gives an impression of fluidity in the meaning of the basic landscape terms. The meaning varies both within the same dialect community and along the dialect continuum. This variation in meaning is especially evident at the example of terms for plains, which represent what Barthes suggests in the 'empty sign' concept, and based on the indexical nature of ecotopes. We argue that the ways of variation are bound to and can be interpreted through the Ewenki people's understanding of "changing landscapes", mobility patterns, and complex relationships with non-human beings the fluidity of which is embedded in their basic geographic nomenclature. "The track is never the same", as one of the Ewenki persons noted. Similarly the ecotopes are never the same, i.e. constant, but fluid in nature.

panel P003
Tilting the globe: creativity, transition and stasis in the Circumpolar North