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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Plant taxonomic systems and ethnobotany of three contemporary Indian groups of the Pacific Northwest (Haida, Bella Coola, and Lillooet) Turner, Nancy Jean


Plant names in three Pacific Northwest Indian languages -- Haida (Skidegate and Masset dialects), Bella Coola, and Lillooet (Fraser River "dialect") -- were analyzed 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% 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 analyzable 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, inter-group 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 appendixes 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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