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The values of meaning and the meanings of ‘values’: Environmental language in text and concept system in a Wet Tropics World Heritage context

James Cook University ePrints (JCU ePrints)

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Title The values of meaning and the meanings of ‘values’:
Environmental language in text and concept system in a Wet
Tropics World Heritage context
Creator Dillon, Denise Bridget
Description There is growing concern about and evidence of emergent language and meaning problems in the environmental domain, where natural science and social science terminology and assumptions, management speak and lay language come together without a common understanding. This research examined environment-specific meanings and uses of the abstract word ‘values’ that are dependent upon lexical and experiential context through language and prior knowledge. The aims were to examine and document an environmental vocabulary and associated meanings in naturally occurring contexts that appear to have multiple cultures of use and meaning, and to consider theoretical and practical implications concerning multifarious meanings of terms and constructs.

The research investigated naturally occurring language use in the protected area domain of a World Heritage Area (WHA). This applied context encompasses multiple language and meaning issues in natural resource management, research and monitoring, and community consultation and participation, where effective communication is essential between stakeholder groups with often differing cultures of use and meaning for particular core terms and constructs. Theoretical perspectives that informed the research embrace cognitive scientific and social psychological theories of mental and social representations, and knowledge acquisition, elicitation and representation. The principle methodologies employed were text analysis, a lexical decision task, and concept mapping. Participants and document samples were drawn from three groups involved in environmental research, management and conservation activism in the Wet Tropics WHA in Australia.

Study 1, involving text analysis, indicated that meanings commonly assigned to ‘values’ in the WHA context reflect intersecting semantic domains of economic worth, abstract moral principles, and biophysical attributes. Study 2 compared environment specific word use with general use in the British National Corpus, and confirmed that word associations with ‘values’ in general use differ from those in the specific WHA context. Study 3 examined the role of specific background knowledge on word recognition. Results suggest that experts and novices use qualitatively different strategies for recognising low frequency environment words. Study 4 examined the conceptual content and structure of an ‘environmental values’ construct, revealing 81 items in seven clusters along two dimensions (affect and social orientation). The content and structure are similar to ‘values’ typologies derived from different theoretical and methodological approaches, pointing to an underlying conceptual structure within broader ‘values’ research. The four studies, taken together, clearly establish that serious language use and meaning problems and confusions exist relating to ‘environmental and world heritage values’, that there is potential for problems with effective communication and credible natural resource management and science because of these unresolved language and meaning issues, and that these problems are evident in underlying language and concept processing as well as in text-based and informal communication contexts. A clear management challenge in the protected area management domain is the management of environmental discourse for effective research, monitoring, and management of protected environments. It is recommended that the importance and role of language in designating, specifying, and communicating about important environmental constructs relating to human-environment interactions, conservation, and management be given a clearer and distinct status as an important and neglected research area and need.
Date 2008-04
Type Thesis
Format application/pdf
Dillon, Denise Bridget (2008) The values of meaning and the meanings of ‘values’: Environmental language in text and concept system in a Wet Tropics World Heritage context. PhD thesis, James Cook University.