Borrowability, inheritance, and semantic change in the Indo-European and Caucasian vocabulary for hunting, farming, and technology

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Vocabulary for subsistence and technology may vary a great deal in their degree of borrowability, depending on time, place, inherent subsistence and technology, and the situation of the borrowing. In cross-linguistic typological studies of borrowability, these words tend to group somewhere from middle to high in borrowability, depending on lexical concept (Haspelmath & Tadmor, 2009). We have compiled a set of 100 lexical concepts of importance to hunting, farming, and technology from a perspective of high age and presumed high stability from a cultural perspective. These concepts include, e.g., bovine cattle (BULL, OX, COW), animals of traction (HORSE, DONKEY), important metals (GOLD, IRON, COPPER), important crops (GRAIN, WHEAT), important game (HARE, DEER), essential technological innovations (WHEEL, WAGON). We have compiled a complete data set of lexemes from Indo-European, Caucasian (Kartvelian, Nakh-Dagestanian, Northwest Caucasian), as well as adjacent Uralic and Turkic languages, in all around 300 languages. In particular the Caucasian data is rich and new, based on fieldwork of poorly documented languages. The lexemes have been coded for etymology as well as for borrowing, lexical derivation and semantic change, and are amassed in a lexical cognacy database (Carling, 2017). Preliminary studies on the material indicate, first, that there is a high degree of inherited words for both farming and technology, which are paralleled and independent in both Indo-European and Caucasian families. Interestingly enough, we also find a great deal of vocabulary in the families that apparently have their roots in joint, very ancient migration words. Also, we notice that some words are similar between the families in the way they are derived (e.g., Proto-Kartvelian *borbal ‘wheel’, from *bor- ‘rotation’). An interesting parallel between Indo-European and Caucasian is that semantic change of culture words within etymologies follow almost identical principles, indicating a high cultural component in semantic change. Finally, we notice that borrowability may be high in certain areas and in certain languages, also targeting concepts of very high age, such as farming words. Much of this borrowing is relatively late (e.g., in Caucasian from Persian, Arabic, or Turkic), indicating that cultural impact may have played an important role in changing the vocabulary also for concept for which there must have been an inherent vocabulary. The presentation will look at particular concepts and lexemes, both inherited words, possible ancient loans, migration words, as well as later, obvious borrowings. Further, we will look at statistics on borrowability in general, and type and direction of semantic change of culture concepts of the data. Carling, G. (2017). DiACL - Diachronic Atlas of Comparative Linguistics Online (Publication no. from Lund University Haspelmath, M., & Tadmor, U. (2009). Loanwords in the world's languages: a comparative handbook (M. Haspelmath & U. Tadmor Eds.). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


External organisations
  • Malmö University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch
EventInternational Colloquium on Loanwords and Substrata in Indo-European languages - Carrefour des étudiants, Limoges, France
Duration: 2018 Jun 42018 Jun 7


ConferenceInternational Colloquium on Loanwords and Substrata in Indo-European languages
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