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Conference Information

Full Title: Meronymy across Languages: Lexicalization, Semantics, Morphosyntax

Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Start Date: 27-Sep-2013 - 28-Sep-2013
Contact: Carolyn O'Meara
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting Description: Meronymy across Languages: Lexicalization, Semantics, Morphosyntax

Sponsoring Institutions:

Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
National Science Foundation
Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana - Iztapalapa

Dates and Location:

September 27-28, 2013
Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico

Invited Speakers:

Eve Danziger (University of Virginia)
Soteria (Roula) Svorou (San José State University)

The goal of this symposium is to contribute to the typology of meronym systems in the languages of the world. Meronyms are terms that describe entities as parts of larger entities. Terms for parts of the human body are perhaps universally the prototypical meronyms, and semantic transfer from body parts to object parts and spatial relations may well be universal as well (Svorou 1994; Heine 1997). However, evidence from Mesoamerican languages points to a number of features not hitherto attested elsewhere. From the perspective of the available literature on the typology of spatial descriptions, Mesoamerican meronymies are unusual in two respects. First, they represent perhaps the most important resource for the expression of place functions (as defined in Jackendoff 1983) in many Mesoamerican languages - in particular, in languages without spatial case markers and with few or no adpositions. Second, MA meronyms are systematically assigned on the basis of the geometry of the object and the shapes of its parts, not on the basis of the parts’ functions. For example, in Western languages, the ‘blade’ and the ‘handle’ of a knife are labeled by terms that apply to blades and handles of other objects on the basis of their function, regardless of shape. In contrast, in Yucatec Maya, the handle is the ‘leg’ of the knife. There is no word for the blade as such; instead, the two planar surfaces of the blade are identified as its ‘fronts’. These terms are applied to parts of similar shape in arbitrary objects regardless of function.

Two different proposals have been advanced to account for the productivity of shape-based meronymy in MA. MacLaury (1989) describes Ayoquesco Zapotec meronyms as body part terms that are metaphorically extended to other entities on the basis of a global analogical mapping process with the structure of an erect human body as its source domain and the structure of the entity described by the ‘holonym’ in its actual orientation as the target domain. This mapping is orientation-sensitive: the highest part of the object becomes the metaphorical ‘head’ and the lowest part the ‘buttocks’ or ‘feet’, depending on its shape. In contrast, Levinson (1994) describes meronym assignment in Tenejapan Tseltal as governed, not by a metaphorical mapping process, but by an algorithm that takes as input the visually segmented outline of the whole and labels parts on the basis of their shape and the axis of the entity they occur on.

Presently, the research project Spatial language and cognition beyond Mesoamerica (MesoSpace; NSF Award No. BCS-1053123) is examining the conceptual basis for meronym assignment, testing predictions derived from the global-analogy account proposed by MacLaury for Zapotec and the shape-analytical algorithm proposed by Levinson for Tseltal in their field languages.
Linguistic Subfield: Anthropological Linguistics; Morphology; Semantics; Typology
LL Issue: 24.301

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