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Lexical Semantics. An Introduction Boris Iomdin Russian Language Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences [email protected] ru
Lecture 3. Plan Language and mind Von Humboldt’s ideas Followers of von Humboldt Linguistic relativity: Sapir-Whorf hypothesis Universalist theory Recent trends Translatability issues Wierzbicka’s approach Naïve vs. scientific picture of the world
Language and mind Is the way we speak connected to the way we think? Many monographs: N. Chomsky, Language and Mind L. Vygotsky, Reasoning and Speech A. Luriya, Language and Conscience A. Potebnya, Thought and Language Many open questions: Are linguistic structures innate? How do children master a language? Is thinking without language possible at all?
What can semantics tell us? Linguistic conceptualization of the world: how does the language segment and reflect it? Do speakers of different languages see the world in different ways? Does the language show us the same picture of the world as the scientific knowledge does?
W. von Humboldt (1767– 1835) Diplomat, philosopher, founder of Humboldt University in Berlin, architect of the Prussian education system He was the first to claim that the character and structure of a language expresses the inner life and knowledge of its speakers… and that languages must differ from one another in the same way and to the same degree as those who use them. W. von Humboldt, On the structural variety of human language and its influence on the intellectual development of mankind (an introduction to the grammar of the ancient Kawi language of Java), 1836
Humboldt’s ideas The comparative study of the world's languages represents a constant challenge to the empirical linguist and to the philosopher. Linguistic studies are important to discover the part language plays in the formation and transmission of ideas not just in “the metaphysical sense” as conditioning the creation of concepts, but also in the way in which an individual language imparts its formative imprint on these concepts. The diversity of languages is not a diversity of signs and sounds but a diversity of views of the world.
Humboldt’s ideas “Every language draws about the people that possess it a circle whence it is possible to exit only into the circle of another one. To learn a foreign language should therefore be to acquire a new standpoint in the world-view hitherto possessed, and in fact to a certain extent is so, since every language contains the whole conceptual fabric and mode of presentation of a portion of mankind. But because we always carry over, more or less, our own world view, this outcome is not purely and completely experienced”.
Followers of Humboldt Neo-Humboldtians (J. Trier, L. Weisgerber): each language represents a world view (Weltbild). It is carried primarily in the lexicon, in related and contrasting sets of words. To understand a language, one must reconstruct its “semantic fields”. E. Cassirer: the “thought world” in which we live is “linguistically determined”: it is in fact an “ideational world”, or a “spiritual reality” North American School of cultural anthropology (F. Boas): several words for snow in Inuktitut
“Eskimo words for snow” aaniuvak 'perpetual snow patch‘, aksakaaqtuq 'snowball‘, aluiqqaniq 'overhanging snow‘, alutsiniq 'deep snow hollow‘, aniu 'snow for drinking‘, apijuq 'covered with snow‘, apigianngaut 'first snow‘, apilraun/apilraut 'first layer of snow‘, apun/aput 'snow on the ground‘, apujjaqsuqtuq 'digs it out of the snow‘, aputainnaruuvuq 'has much snow on clothes‘, apusialukpuq 'covered with a lot of snow‘, apusimatiqtuq 'snow storming‘, apusimiriikkusijuq 'has placed it on top of snow covered', apummiungujut 'tent on snow‘, aqilluqqaq 'soft under crust snow‘, atairranaqtuq 'squeaky snow‘, autturunniq 'snow pressed melted frozen‘, aujaqsuittuq 'eternal snow‘, auviq/savuujaqtuaq/qulluaqtuq 'snow block‘, igluvijaq 'snow house' ijaruajuq 'snow in the eye‘, ijaruvak 'new soft snow (which has packed)‘, illaujait 'dark ice‘, illaujiniq 'candle‘, illiti 'vertical snow house wall‘, immiugaq 'ice water' immiuqtuq 'ice melts‘, immiugainnaatuq 'snow water‘, ivrarniq 'moderately soft snow‘, ivunrit 'piled ice‘, ivvuit 'rough ice‘, kakkikulivuq 'wind blows snow‘, kanangnaq 'snow wind‘, kapuqqalukpuq 'look for snow house‘, kapuraq 'test
Criticism of the snow example defining "Eskimo“ word boundary issues Eskimo word synthesis But the important point remains: it’s not that Inuktitut speakers can choose among several words for snow, but that they do not categorize all of them as "snow": to them, each word is supposedly a separate concept.
Linguistic relativity E. Sapir, L. Whorf: the varying cultural concepts and categories in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the world, so that speakers of different languages think and behave differently. “No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached” E. Sapir, The status of linguistics as a science, 1929
Whorf’s examples Hopi language: different notion of time (tense is not an obligatory grammatical category in Hopi) Nootka language: no nouns, only verbs SAE (Standard Average European): count and mass nouns Language influences colour perception
Colour terms across languages 11 basic colour terms in English 12 in Russian or Italian (blu/sinij – azzurro/goluboj) 2 words for red in Hungarian: piros – vörös In Japanese, ao (青) is blue and green. Traffic lights are ao shingō, blue skies are aozora. Midori (綠), a relatively new word, is the colour of grass, but still considered a variation of blue.
Universalist theory N. Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, 1965 All languages share the same underlying structure Linguistic structures are largely innate Differences between specific languages are merely surface phenomena which do not affect cognitive processes that are universal to all human beings
Basic colours are universal? B. Berlin, P. Kay, Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, 1969 P. Kay, Ch. K. Mc. Daniel, The linguistic significance of the meanings of basic color terms, 1978
Recent trends Criticism of the universalist theory Advances in cognitive theory. G. Lakoff: different metaphors reveal different things of thinking Structure centered approach. John Lucy: use of grammatical number and numeral classifiers in Yucatec result in Mayan speakers classifying objects according to material rather than to shape Domain centered approach: colour terms, orientation in time and space, kinship terms, etc. Behaviour centered approach, e. g. Pirahã not counting.
Language, a collective memory “Human languages are not only a means of communication, they are also collective memories. Through a language, a child quickly gets access to many of the concepts, attitudes and values through which the community he/she is going to be socialized into structures its social and natural environment” (J. Allwood).
Translatability issues Russian: pal’cy (fingers / toes), delat’ (do / make), vysokij (high / tall), cvetok (flower / blossom) English: wash is Russian myt’ or stirat’, live is German leben / wohnen, French vivre / habiter Chinese has no lexemes for ‘brother’ and ‘sister’: 哥 (ge) ‘elder brother’ 弟 (di) ‘younger brother’ 姐 (jie) ‘elder sister’ 妹 (mei) ‘younger sister’
Approach of Anna Wierzbicka Semantics, culture and cognition, 1992 Understanding cultures through their key words, 1996 Emotions across languages and cultures: diversity and universals, 1999 Cross-cultural pragmatics, 2003 (2 nd edition) English: meaning and culture, 2006
Ideas of Wierzbicka Unlike Whorf, who focuses more on grammar, Wierzbicka primarily works with the vocabulary, particularly with heavily culture laden words such as emotions, speech acts, cultural values. Each language is composed of (1) a limited number of elementary concepts existing in all languages and of (2) an unequally greater amount of complex concepts that can be described as culture-specific combinations of the basic set. (more on Wierzbicka’s elementary concepts in the next lecture)
Language-specific concepts Russian: dusha ≈ ‘soul’, toska ≈ ‘yearning’, sud’ba ≈ ‘fate’, dal’ ≈ ‘distance, vista’, avos’ ≈ ‘perhaps’, … German Bruderschaft ≈ ‘brotherhood’ German Vaterland / Heimat vs. Russian rodina / otechestvo vs. Polish ojczyzna Japanese amae ≈ ‘dependence upon another’s love’, enryo ≈ ‘interpersonal restraint’, omoyari ≈ ‘benefactive empathy’, …
Fruits and vegetables Scientific picture: biological definitions? No vegetables! Fruits in botany: the seed-bearing structure in angiosperms formed from the ovary after flowering. Examples: sunflower, maple, walnut, cotton, mustard… In accordance with a US Supreme Court ruling in 1893, the difference between a fruit and a vegetable is as follows: “Any plant or part thereof eaten during the main dish is a vegetable. If it is eaten at any other part of the meal, it is a fruit. ”
Fruits or vegetables? Many true fruits, in a botanical sense, are treated as vegetables in cooking and food preparation because they are not sweet. Examples: squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, beans, corn, eggplant, sweet pepper, chili, …
Naïve vs. scientific: overlapping
Fruits in Europe: official view "Jam" is a mixture, brought to a suitable gelled consistency, of sugars, the pulp and/or purée of one or more kinds of fruit and water. Tomatoes, the edible parts of rhubarb stalks, carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and water-melons are considered to be fruit. Council Directive 2001/113/EC of 20 December 2001 relating to fruit jams, jellies and marmalades and sweetened chestnut purée intended for human consumption
Berries Drupe (stone fruit): peach, coconut, mango, olive, … Berry: guava, tomato, blueberry, … Pepo: watermelon, cucumber, squash, … Aggregate: strawberry, … Multiple: mulberry, pineapple, … Botany Handbook for Florida, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 1999
Differences among languages Fruits in Russian: apricot, pineapple, orange, pomegranate, banana, pear, fig, kiwi, lemon, mango, peach, plum, apple, … Berries in Russian: strawberry, wild strawberry, bilberry, blueberry, cranberry, cowberry, gooseberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, … Grapes? Cherries? Avocado? In Brazil, the avocado is traditionally consumed with sugar as a dessert or in milk shakes, and hence regarded as a fruit Berry in Bulgarian and Czech?
Summary by Ju. Apresjan Each language reflects a specific way of perceiving and organizing the world about us. The meanings expressed in natural language form a unified system of views. The way of conceptualizing reality (the world-view) inherent in a given language is partly universal and partly national-specific, such that speakers of different languages may view the world in slightly different ways, through the prism of their languages. This view is naïve in the sense that it differs in many important particulars from a scientific picture of the world.
Next lecture Metalanguages of semantics. Lingua mentalis. Lexicographic definitions.