Re: Linguistics (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 5 Apr 1995 09:55:50 CST
From: Greg McIsaac <GFM@age2.age.uiuc.edu>
To: sustag@beta.tricity.wsu.edu
Subject: Re: Linguistics (fwd)

On Wednesday April 5 Alasdare McKay described some confusions around 
the term "watershed" in the English speaking world and argued that using the 
term "foodshed" may create similar confusions.   Being an 
engineer who works with water movement and watersheds, I am in 
agreement with Mr. McKay.  However, it seems to me that much of the 
confusion over watershed terminology occurs on the international 
level and it is not surprising that the objections to the term are 
coming from outside the US.  In the US, the term "watershed" is most
often used to describe an area that sheds water to a particular outlet, 
which is what everyone else in 
the English speaking world refers to as a "catchment."   The ridges  
that divide catchments are referred to "watershed divides"  in the 
US.   However, people in the US will still use the phrase "watershed" to 
refer to events or periods of time in which some great change occurred
(e.g. "It was a watershed in American History").  In that usage they are 
using the term "watershed" to refer to the divide.  

Nancy Lee Bently prefers the term food circle to describe what seems 
to be a similar set of concepts, and this term may eliminate 
some of the confusion about foodshed terminology on the international 
level.  However, I don't particularly care for the term food circle, 
for two reasons.  A circle is a rather precise, rigid, two 
dimensional geometric form, that does not capture the dynamic, 
flexible, multidimensional character of food systems.  The ecologists have had 
the term "food web" for quite some time and that seems to capture what 
much of what foodsheds and food circles seem to be about.  Why not 
use that terminology, since it seems to be fairly well established, 
is ecologically oriented and may circumvent some confusion on the 
international scene?

Gregory McIsaac
Agricultural Engineer
University of Illinois


> Date:          Wed, 5 Apr 1995 07:02:58 -0700 (PDT)
> Reply-to:      sustag@beta.tricity.wsu.edu
> From:          "Tom Hodges (moderated newsgroup)" <sustag@beta.tricity.wsu.edu>
> To:            Principles of Sustainable Agriculture <sustag-l@listproc.wsu.edu>
> Subject:       Linguistics (fwd)

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Wed, 5 Apr 1995 10:40:24 -0300
> From: Alasdair McKay <aa233@cfn.cs.dal.ca>
> To: "Tom Hodges (moderated newsgroup)" <sustag@beta.tricity.wsu.edu>
> Subject: Linguistics
> > Presumably those folks having trouble with 'foodshed' and even
> > 'watershed' have equal trouble comprehending 'software' (Duh, is that
> > a fabric treatment or something..?) and 'floppy.'
> No very great problem with "foodshed" as an alternative to "store" "barn"
> "larder"  "pantry"  or the like, but when you associate it with 
> "watershed" - which means different things to different people, the 
> intended meaning becomes very obscure.
> > The 3 1/2" floppies must cause apoplexy, because they're not very
> > bendable.
> Some people have no curiosity  -- try dismembering one.
> "Watershed" to me (and many others in the English-speaking world) means "a
> line on either side of which surface water flows under gravity into
> different river systems".  This is a precise concept and I have no
> difficulty in understanding it. The use of "shed" in this sense has also
> long been used to describe the parting of hair on the head in 
> hair-styling circles ( left shed ; middle shed ; right shed ).
> I am also very well aware that there are many other people in the English 
> speaking world who use the term "watershed" in quite a different way - 
> usually to describe what I would call "catchment area", but in arid 
> areas, where flow under hydraulic pressure may be more important than 
> surface runoff and where no river system develops such that one cannot 
> speak of its catchment area, other definitions must be used. I have 
> often thought that this second usage of the term "watershed" must have come 
> about through sloppy application of the first usage (arising out of a 
> mis-understanding of the concept), but I am open to correction on that 
> point by anyone who has good linguistic historical evidence on the matter.
> After a time, one can get used to this Babel, just as one contends with 
> other foreign languages.
>  > 
> > C'mon, people.  I speak several languages, and the ongoing beauty and
> > strength of English is its very maleability and adaptability;
> > borrowing, adapting, adopting, shaping, modifying words to expand and
> > introduce meaning. 
> Undoubtedly - but most languages can do this.  If they could not, they 
> would never have evolved in the first place. Probably the way in which 
> English differs to some extent is in the facility to commute the function 
> of a word without altering its structure to fit verbal or other inflection :
> 	E.g. Shakespeare's use of "spaniel" as a verb.
>  - But words which have been hammered out of words whose meaning is 
> different to different people do begin to cause problems.
> Technical terminology will arise spontaneously when even the rich English 
> vocabulary of "words to use when you don't know what to call something" 
> prove inadequate for the situation. In very narrow technical fields, only 
> a few people need ever understand such terms.
> Children, over the generations, have also invented vocabularies for 
> themselves. Usually these are left behind as things of childhood, but 
> some pickings may survive to enrich the language.
> > English has become the language of preference for
> > international communication in large measure precisely _because_ its
> > speakers can (and do) coin words like 'foodshed' to explain a
> > concept.
> Come on!  English is now an international language because the two 
> dominant Imperial powers of the last three centuries - Britain and the 
> United States - both used English. An over-rapid evolution of the English 
> language at the present day would threaten its utility as the lingua 
> franca of, say, the Orient rather than perpetuate it.
> > If you want to stand up and wave the flag for integrated, corporate,
> > centralised, and heavily subsidised agriculture, by all means do it,
> > and it can be discussed in those terms. 
> I have no desire whatsoever to do this.
> > Please don't, however, set
> > up a term such as 'foodshed' as a straw-man and attack the term
> > rather than discussing the concept.
> The discussions about food supply are both interesting and important and
> should be conducted in a language which as many people as possible can
> understand readily. In this particular topic, the invention of a lot of
> new technical terms may be unwise unless they are genuinely necessary for
> precise and succinct discussion by some very specialised group of people. If
> nothing else, the proliferation of new terms makes me suspicious that
> someone is trying to "pull the wool" (if you get my drift). I know
> "straw-men" in various guises from the West and the Orient, but do not
> quite understand the relevance of the term here - although the meaning is
> fairly clear from the context. I presume that this particular straw man
> comes from some bit of literature with which I am unfamiliar.
> Why don't I knock you up tomorrow morning and we'll go out and have a 
> look at this food shed of yours and then we'll find somewhere nice where 
> you can eat on me?
> (Possibly offensive to some, but immediately recognisable by others as
> nothing but an indication of willingness to come by at an early
> hour for a pre-prandial stroll around the foodshed followed by an
> invitation to breakfast a good restaurant.)
> Alasdair McKay