Driving forces of semantic categorisation: meaning across domains and languages among minorities of the Malay Peninsula

Project: Research

Layman's description

Drawing on data from fieldwork among diverse and endangered communities of the Malay Peninsula (speaking Aslian languages of the Austroasiatic language family), the project investigates the relationship between meaning and the linguistic, cultural and natural ecology of speakers across different semantic domains and in four languages: Jahai, Menriq, Lanoh, and Temiar.

This linguistic project explores the determinants of semantic categorisation. Language communities differ in how they categorise reality, semantically and cognitively. This applies to domains like anatomy, the physical landscape, spatial relationships, life forms, etc. Why do these differences exist? Previous work proposes two main factors in semantic categorisation. One school of thought suggests human intellectual interest, in combination with the natural ‘cuts’ that reality provides, determine what gets categorised and how. Another proposes that categories are determined by utilitarian considerations, e.g. the subsistence system of a community. Drawing on data from fieldwork among diverse and endangered communities of the Malay Peninsula (speaking Aslian languages of the Austroasiatic language family), the project investigates the relationship between meaning and the linguistic, cultural and natural ecology of speakers across four semantic domains and four languages. This setting provides a systematic natural experiment, in which we can explore the effects of culture, environment and modes of subsistence on linguistic and cognitive categories. Methods include state-of-the-art field techniques of elicitation, and digitally recorded media will form a machine-readable database for analysis of natural language. The findings of the project will be of central interest to semantic theory, and the data generated will form a unique record of vanishing language communities.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date2008/01/012011/12/31

Participants