Rice University logoShell Center for Sustainability
Top blue bar image
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
Facebook btnRSS


The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.




Matt Shibatani, Ph.D., Department of Linguistics, Rice University
Gail M. Coelho, Ph.D., Department of Linguistics, Rice University
Stephen Tyler, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, Rice University

Project Background

There is accumulating evidence that biodiversity and linguistic diversity go hand-in-hand, and that one cannot be studied separately from the other. Where there is the greatest biodiversity, the highest linguistic diversity tends to be found, e.g. New Guinea.

This project analyzes the relationship between language and the traditional ecological knowledge it encodes. The goal is to gain an understanding of the role of language in the maintenance of symbiotic human-environment relationships, the role of language in the acquisition, accumulation, maintenance, and transmission of traditional ecological knowledge and the way language loss affects these processes.

Research will be carried out in the Nilgiri Mountains of southern India, an area rich in biological as well as linguistic diversity. Shell Center funds will enable the research team to work with members of the Betta Kurumba community, an ethnic group who lives in the Montane tropical forests of Nilgiris. The research team will document the language and lifestyle of the group through audio recordings of oral narratives in the native language and video recordings of community activities and gather information about the group's utilization of natural resources and their traditional methods of resource management.

Return to  Research