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Semantic Change and the Methodology of Semantic Reconstruction

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1 Semantic Change and the Methodology of Semantic Reconstruction
Matthias Urban MPI EVA

2 Outline Approaches to and issues in Semantic Reconstruction
A new proposal Application to IE data How natural typologically is the reconstructed PIE lexicon generally?

3 Practice of Semantic Reconstruction
Nikolayev and Starostin (1994: 7): “the semantic reconstruction is of course very tentative; we do not pretend that meanings can be exactly reconstructed in most cases.” Most etymological dictionaries I know do not make explicit the reasoning the authors used to arrive at semantic reconstructs at all (though this doesn’t mean that authors didn’t apply any or didn’t think carefully about what to reconstruct). Though note Rix (2002: 1336): “Wo die einzelsprachlichen Bedeutungen differieren, ist der Ansatz zu suchen, der die wenigsten und/oder leichtesten einzelsprachlichen Bedeutungsveränderungen impliziert... ” But what are “leichte Bedeutungsveränderungen”?

4 Koch (2004): typology of practical approaches
The additive type

5 The selective type

6 The taxonomic-abstracting type

7 The engonymic type

8 Theory: Reconstruction by Semantic Features
Foreshadowed in Benveniste (1956), discussed by Fox (1995), applied e.g. by Zorc (2004) Idea: look at the meanings of cognates in daughter languages and what semantic features they have in common. These features are thought to figure in the proto-meaning as well.

9 Benveniste’s famous example (summarized from Koch 2004)
 Reconstruct: ‘passage’ (‘franchissement’)

10 “The resulting proto-meaning thus becomes a sort of ‘lowest common denominator’ of the descendent meanings. If we took these feature-based semantic etymologies in general at their face value, the resulting Proto-Indo-European vocabulary would be an improbably abstract one.” (Sweetser 1990: 24) “it is scarcely surprising that to many linguists, the non- phonological side of etymology appears inherently non-scientific ” (Sweetser 1990: 23)

11 Theory: from concrete to abstract
Sweetser (1990: 24) “Furthermore, such generalizations about semantic change as we do have ... suggest very strongly that meaning more frequently shifts from concrete to abstract than in the opposite direction; an observation which makes the semantic side of many feature-based etymologies doubly suspect.” An extremely valuable generalization, but restricted in application mostly to (i) changes related to grammaticalization and (ii) the conceptualization of abstract domains via metaphor. But what to do with data where neither applies (in practice, probably the majority)?

12 A new synchrony-based approach (Urban 2011)
Basic Observation: Cross-linguistically, the same semantic relationship that is realized by polysemy in one language may be realized by word-formation relations in another (Evans 1992: 478, inter alia). Khalkha Mongolian kebeli ‘belly, stomach, womb’ Vietnamese is dạ con ‘stomach child’ = ‘womb’ . This I call an asymmetry in overt marking revealed by cross-linguistic evidence.

13 Hypothesis: Directionality in word-formation (synchronic) often mirrors directionality in semantic change (diachronic): Terms for ‘stomach’ are likely to develop the meaning ‘womb’, but not vice versa. Data: A world-wide sample of 149 languages on both patterns of polysemy and morphologically complex terms for a wordlist of 160 meanings.

14 46 asymmetries and thus testable hypotheses
24. ‘milk’ → ‘nipple’ 25. ‘liver’ → ‘lungs’ 26. ‘car’ → ‘train’ 27. ‘heart’ → ‘kidney’ 28. ‘mirror’ → ‘glasses’ 29. ‘heart’ → ‘lungs’ 30. ‘(molar) tooth’ → ‘jaw’ 31. ‘belly/stomach’ → ‘navel’ 32. ‘cheek’ → ‘buttocks’ 33. ‘mouth’ → ‘cheek’ 34. ‘skin’ → ‘bark’ 35. ‘saliva/spittle’ → ‘foam’ 36. ‘house’ → ‘nest’ 37. ‘mouth’ → ‘estuary’ 38. ‘tongue’ → ‘flame’ 49. ‘road/street/way’ → ‘Milky Way’ 40. ‘bed’ → ‘nest’ 41. ‘egg’ → ‘testicle’ 42. ‘sun’ → ‘clock’ 43. ‘seed’ → ‘testicle’ 44. ‘shadow’ → ‘mirror’ 45. ‘bird’ → ‘airplane’ 46. ‘foam’ → ‘lungs’ 1. ‘cloud’ → ‘fog/mist’ 2. ‘sun’ → ‘moon’ 3. ‘grass’ → ‘straw/hay’ 4. ‘smoke’ → ‘fog/mist’ 5. ‘steam’ → ‘fog/mist’ 6. ‘animal’ → ‘bird’ 7. ‘lake’ → ‘swamp’ 8. ‘smoke’ → ‘dust’ 9. ‘smoke’ → ‘cloud’ 10. ‘tree’ → ‘branch’ 11. ‘ashes’ → ‘embers’ 12. ‘tree’ → ‘forest’ 13. ‘day’ → ‘dawn’ 14. ‘flower/blossom’ → ‘bud’ 15. ‘day’ → ‘noon’ 16. ‘sun’ → ‘noon’ 17. ‘honey’ → ‘wax’ 18. ‘bone’ → ‘horn’ 19. ‘river/stream’ → ‘flood’ 20. ‘breast’ → ‘milk’ 21. ‘mouth’ → ‘lip’ 22. ‘belly/stomach’ → ‘womb’ 23. ‘heart’ → ‘belly/stomach’

15 Test against Indo-Aryan data
p < .002 p < (Binomial test)

16 Caveat: not considered is the special case of shift from animal body part to human body part (beak  mouth etc.), since pragmatically special

17 Application to IE reconstruction
Given that there is reason to believe that the predictions work out (although it would be required to test against more data to get a better assessment of the validity of the suggestions), the asymmetries can be applied for semantic reconstruction. Standard of Comparison: Reconstructions in Pokorny (1969/1994). Reconstructions here are mostly of the taxonomic-abstracting type.

18 22. ‘womb’  ‘belly/stomach’
Root / lemma: udero-, u̯ēdero- (Pk ) Reconstructed Meaning: ‘Bauch’, und gleichbedeutende Worte ähnlichen Anlautes Material: Ai. udára-m ‘Bauch, Anschwellung des Leibes, der dicke Teil eines Dinges, Höhlung, Inneres’ Lat. uterus ‘Unterleib, Bauch, bes. Mutterleib, Gebärmutter […]‘, venter ‘Bauch’

19 1. ‘fog/mist’  ‘cloud’ Root / lemma: sneudh- (Pk 978) Reconstructed Meaning: ‘Nebel; neblig, düster’ Material: Av. snaoδa- ‘Wolke’, södbaluči nōd ‘leichtes Gewölk, Nebel, Regenwolke’, gr. νυθόν ἄφωνον. σκοτεινόν, νυθῶδες σκοτεινῶδες , lat. nūbēs ‘Wolke’ cymr. nudd ‘Nebel’ Suggestion: Reconstruct ‘cloud’ (in line with the evidence from older stages)


21 9. ‘cloud’  ‘smoke’ Root / lemma: reu-b / reu-g (Pk ) Reconstructed Meaning: ‘ sich erbrechen, rülpsen, hervorbrechen’, auch ‘Wolke, Rauch’ Material: Wenn alb. rē ‘Wolke’ aus *rougi entstanden ist wie nhd. Rauch, ist ein bereits uridg. *reug ‘Wolke, Rauch’ vorraussetzbar. If anything, more likely only ‘ Rauch’ (would also fit better as metaphorical extension of basic verbal meaning); but note that the etymology is more complicated (Kluge 2002)

22 23. ‘stomach’  ‘heart’ Root / lemma: sk̂erd-, k̂ērd-, k̂r̥d-, k̂red- (Pk ) Reconstructed Meaning: ‘ Herz ’ Material: Arm. sirt, Instr. srti-v ‘Herz’ gr. καρδίᾱ (att.), κραδίη (hom.), κάρζα (lesb.), κορίζᾱ (kypr.) ‘Herz; Magen; Mark bei Pflanzen' Hitt. Ka-ra-az (karts) ‘Herz’ […]

23 41. ‘testicle’  ‘egg’ Root / lemma: ō(u̯)i̯-om (Pk 783) Reconstructed Meaning: ‘Ei, d. h. das vom Vogel gehörige’ Material: Old pers. xāya ‘Ei’ gr. att. ὠιόν (* ō(u̯)i̯-om), öol. ὤιον (* ō(u̯)i̯-om), dor. ὤεον (* ō(u̯)i̯-om) ‘Ei’ cymr. wy, corn. uy ‘Ei’ Av. ap-āvaya ‘entmannt’ (?), falls aus apa-āvaya ‘ohne Hode’

24 Advantages -Consistent Method -Reconstructed Meanings are natural -Based on synchronic typological data, so even languages with no documented history can contribute to the data pool Disadvantages -Margin of error, probabilistic only -Requires at this stage further empirical substantiation and testing on other language families -Requires expansion to different meanings

25 How natural typologically is the reconstructed PIE lexicon otherwise?
One of the most striking properties is the huge amount of analyzable items, both derivatives and compounds. How natural is that, and is an increase in analyzability in reconstructs an artifact of the process of reconstruction?


27 Comparison of the same meanings in Proto-Uralic:

28 Comparison of the same meanings in Proto-Nakh- Daghestanian:

29 Unsystematic comparison suggests that reconstruction does not automatically entail a largely analyzable lexicon. But whence the difference? Again, synchronic typology may help: the shorter the lexical roots are in a language, the more analyzable terms its lexicon will feature (Urban forthcoming, on the basis of a sample of 72 languages):

30 IE Lexical root structure: monosyllabic, dominantly CeC structure, with possibility of root enhancements Roots typically verbal, with nominals often derived from them PIE reconstruct in line with typological evidence:

31 PIE would be in this group

32 Thank you!

33 References Benveniste, Émile Problèmes Sémantiques de la Reconstruction. Word Evans, Nicholas Multiple semiotic systems, hyperpolysemy, and the reconstruction of semantic change in Australian languages. In: Günter Kellerman and Michael D. Morrissey (eds.): Diachrony within synchrony, Bern: Peter Lang. Fox, Anthony Linguistic Reconstuction. An Introduction to Theory and Method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kluge, Friedrich Etymologisches Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache. 24th edition, ed. by Elmar Seebold. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter. Koch, Peter Diachronic Onomasiology and Semantic Reconstruction. Lexical Data and Universals of Semantic Change, ed. by Wiltrud Mihatsch & Reinhild Steinberg, Tübingen: Stauffenburg. Nikolayev, Sergej L., and Sergej A. Starostin A North Caucasian etymological dictionary. Moscow: Asterisk. Pokorny, Julius. 1969/1994. Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. Tübingen/Basel: Francke.

34 Rédei, Károly. 1988. Uralisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 3 vols.
Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. Rix, Helmut Wurzeletymologie. In: Cruse et al. (eds.), Sweetser, Eve From etymology to pragmatics. Metaphorical and cultural aspects of semantic structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wodtko, Dagmar S., Britta Irslinger, and Carolin Schneider Nomina im Indogermanischen Lexikon. Heidelberg: Winter. Urban Matthias Asymmetries in Overt Marking and Directionality in Semantic Change. Journal of Historical Linguistics 1, 3-47. Urban, Matthias. Forthcoming. Lexical Motivation and Universally Recurrent Denominations: A cross-linguistic study in lexicology. Dissertation, MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology & Universiteit Leiden Zorc, R. David Semantic Reconstruction in Austronesian Linguistics. Phillipine Journal of Linguistics 35:

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