March 22: Meronymy

This week (March 22) we’ll hear from Tim, Alice, and Yen-Ting about meronymy in English, Datooga, and Endo, respectively.

First Tim will present a more formal presentation (description below), then Alice will lead the discussion on body part terms used as prepositions in Datooga, along with data that suggests Datooga makes use of a zoomorphic spatial model as well as an anthropomorphic one. This is in line with Heine’s observation that zoomorphic models are characteristic of pastoralist societies (Heine 1989). Time allowing, she’ll also present on partitive uses of body part terms. We’ll then be able to compare the Datooga data with what Yen-Ting has found in another Southern Nilotic language, Endo.

This talk deals with a topic in meronymy, the study of lexical items for the parts of entities. Across languages, it is common for the terms for human body parts to also be used for referring to the parts of inanimate objects. This phenomenon been described for Tseltal (Levinson 1994) and Ayoquesco Zapotec (MacLaury 1989), which, like other Mesoamerican languages, have highly productive and consistent strategies for assigning body part terms to the parts of inanimates, although their strategies differ in key ways. The Tseltal strategy involves local mappings that are sensitive to the object’s orientation, whereas the Zapotec strategy involves a global mapping that is independent of orientation. The range of variation across the languages of the world in terms of mapping from the body to inanimate objects is unknown. In particular, there is no published account of how this process works in English. This presentation examines English body part terms, and to what extent their use for the parts of inanimates is systematic or arbitrary. It addresses the issue of local vs. global mapping. Also, it is proposed that small sets of abstract meanings for terms like ‘head,’ ‘eye,’ and ‘foot’ govern the application of these terms to the parts of objects, on the basis of shape, structural position, and function.

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