LINGUIST List 11.1739

Mon Aug 14 2000

Sum: Expressions for 'Language'

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  1. G�nter Radden, Expressions for 'Language'

Message 1: Expressions for 'Language'

Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2000 13:59:44 +0200
From: G�nter Radden <>
Subject: Expressions for 'Language'

For Query: Linguist 11.1659

Expressions for 'language'

Dear Linguists,
I recently posted a query on expressions used for 'language.'
The query is repeated below.

I am researching metonymic and metaphorical expressions in the domain
of language which reflect a folk model of language.

'Language' is commonly expressed metonymically by words for the tongue
(as in Latin _lingua_ or English _native tongue_); more rarely other body
parts are used as in German _Mundart_ 'mouth manner' or Tok Pisin 'neck'.
Another common source for 'language' are words meaning 'speaking'
(as in English _speech_ or German _Sprache_).

Words for 'speaking' and 'saying' typically derive from roots meaning
'sound', 'voice' or are related to words of cognition such as 
German _reden_, which is related to Latin _ratio_ 'reason'. An interesting 
form is Polish _po-wiedziec_ 'say', lit. 'after-know'.

Expressions referring to 'articulation' tend to develop the sense of
'eloquent' as in English _articulate_ or Polish _wy-mowny_ from _wy-mova_
'pronunciation', lit. 'out-speak'.

I received responses from the following people, whom I would like to express
my sincere thanks for the interesting data provided.

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald
Mike Cahill
Ross Clark
Ron Cosper
Yehuda N. Falk
Bernd Finger
Eitan Grossman
Jean-Charles Khalifa
James Kirchner
M. N. Kohan
Bill Morris
Thapelo Otlogetswe
Asya Pereltsvaig
Donald F. Reindl
Kazuko Shinohara
Linda Tait
Jess Tauber
Mahendra K.Verma

Below is a summary of the responses listed according to the languages
mentioned. I hope these observations may stimulate some further discussion
on the ways different languages express the notion of 'language.'

In Sanskrit and Hindi the word for Language is "BHAASHAA", which is not
related to any body-part. It means "language". In Urdu and in Persian the
word for Language is "zabaan", which means 'tongue'. Incidentally, in
Sanskrit "BHAASHAA" referred to " a vernacular", and not to the Standard
Language. (Mahendra K.Verma)

The word which is used for "language" in Persian/Farsi is "zabaan" which
means tongue. (M. N. Kohan)

One question I would have about these examples [_po-wiedziec_ 'say', lit.
'after-know'] is whether the prefix "po-" really means "after", since such
prefixes are not always equivalent in meaning to prepositions of the same
form. For example, Czech "pojet" is just the perfective of "go, ride", and
the "po-" has no visible sense of "after". This is similar to the situation
with English verb particles, such as "up" and "out", which often do not have
the sense of their equivalent prepositions.
With "wymova" ['pronunciation', lit. 'out-speak'], are we really dealing
with the evolution of a Slavic word, or are we dealing with a calque from
German "Aussprache"? I don't know Polish, but Czech is full of calques from
German, such as "vylet" (lit. "aus-Flug"), "odpad" (lit. "ab-Fall"), and of
course "vyslovovat" (lit. "aus-sprech-en" or "out-word"). Slovene has
similar words, such as "izobrazba" (lit. "aus-Bild-ung"), "izlet", which is
our friend "Ausflug" again, and "izgovajava", which, as in the other Slavic
languages, can be discected as "aus-Sprache". My guess is that these words
do not involve a natural morphological or semantic evolution within Slavic,
but a wholesale conscious calquing from German into Slavic.
(James Kirchner)

To the "tongue" list you can add Chechen (mott = "tongue", "language"). The
word "besheda" was used for "language" in Bachka-Ruthenian (i.e., that
spoken in Vojvodina) in the grammar of Havri�l Kostel'nyk; its cognates
generally mean "conversation" in other Slavic languages. Vasmer gives the
original meaning as "das Drau�ensitzen", comparable to old Norse "�tiseta" =
"Au�ensitzen zur Nachtzeit zum Zwecke des Wahrsagens". (Donald F. Reindl)

`Sprache� bedeutet _lingvo_ (erkennbar neu-lateinisch); das entsprechende
Wort f�r Zunge ist aber _lango_ (eher neo-franz�sisch...). Dies ist auf das
Bestreben zur�ckzuf�hren, im Esperanto Polysemien zu vermeiden. Die
Metonymie ist also nur etymologisch gegeben wird aber synchron "bewusst"
`Aussprechen� kann einerseits durch _prononci_, andererseits aber auch durch
_el-paroli_ ausgedr�ckt werden, was der deutschen Bildung `aus-sprechen�
entspricht. Hier hat man die konkurrierenden Prinzipien, einerseits
lateinisch-romanische W�rter zu �bernehmen, andererseits aber mit
vorhandenem Wortmaterial (meist nach deutschem Vorbild) Ableitungen und
Komposita zu bilden.
Eine etwas kuriose Metapher, die auch einiges �ber das (�bertreibene?)
Normbewusstsein von Esperantosprechern aussagt, ist folgende: Wenn auf einem
Esperanto-Treffen zwei Teilnehmer mit der gleichen Muttersprache
untereinander eben diese Sprache (und daher nicht Esperanto...) sprechen, so
kann dies als _krokodili_ (`krokodilieren�) bezeichnet werden. Der Gedanke
ist wohl, das ein solches Verhalten den Zusammenhalt der
Esperanto-Gemeinschaft auf �hnliche Weise gef�hrdet wie ein wildes
Raubtier... Interessant ist ferner, das hier f�r einen doch recht
komplizierten Sachverhalt ein monolexematischer Ausdruck besteht.
(Bernd Finger)

Hebrew has two words commonly used for "language": lashon
(lamed-shin-vav-nun), which means "tongue", and safa (sin-peh-heh), which
means "lip". I don't believe that there is a non-"metaphorical" word for
I wish I were a native speaker to answer the question. I have friends
who are, and I shall be sending them the question. I expect that the
answer is that they are not completely synonymous, but, from a perusal of
the Megiddo Modern Dictionary (Tel Aviv, 1975), it appears that they are
very close in meaning Here are some selected data from the entries for both

lashon: tongue; language, speech, parlance, manner of speaking; people.
Selected examples/compounds involving "lashon":
"tongue consonants" (d, t, l, n)
fluent speaker; linguist
he was tongue-tied
he was precise in his speech
flattery, smooth talking
exactly as written
to slander
in other words
everyday speech, common parlance
tongue of a boot
pivot of balance
The Holy Tongue (Hebrew)
gossip, scandal
bar of gold, ingot; fine language
Mishnaic Hebrew; scientific language
(and more, of course)

safa: lip; language, tongue; edge, rim (of utensil), hem (of a garment);
shore, bank (of a river); labium (anatomy)
Selected examples/compounds involving "safa":
long winded person
half-heartedly, reluctantly
speak harshly
scandal mongering, slander
his words, his promise
only in words (not in thought), hypocritically
sweet words
chatter, jabber; brag
clear speech, plain language
words of truth
flattery, smooth talk
flowery language; verbosity, loquacity
Canaanite, Ancient Hebrew language
Hebrew language
(Bill Morris)

In Hebrew the word for language is the same as the word for 'lip': _safa_.
(Asya Pereltsvaig)

In Hebrew, there are two words for language, both of which derive from body
parts: (S=voiceless palatoalveolar fricative): laSon 'tongue'; safa 'lip'
In terms of their use for 'language', they are synonyms, although in
idiomatic expressions one or the other may be preferred. For example,
"mother tongue" in Hebrew is "sfat em" 'mother lip' (sfat is the construct
form of safa); "the holy language" is "laSon kodeS".
(Yehuda N. Falk)

Among other languages of the world, Hebrew is quite nice in that it uses
both the trem for mouth (safa) and the term for tongue (lashon) to mean
'language'. (Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald)

In Israeli Hebrew, there are two "words for" language: lashon (tongue);
safa (lip). "Speech" is usually dibbur (verbal noun from root d.b.r, same
root for davar (thing or word), devora (bee), midbar (desert), and dover
(speaker, representative)). Whorf was very interested in Hebrew semantic
structurem, which he saw as analogous to that of certain American languages.
Gesenius also discussed the semantics of submorphemic items. Generally,
these theories are considered discredited today, even though respectable
linguists have renewed interest in the semantics of these units. In Biblical
Aramaic, "lishan" (like Hebrew "lashon") means "tongue" or "language" but
also appears as some sort of metonymy for "nation." In Amharic, "language"
is "qwanqwa." the organ "tongue" is "melas." there are a number of words and
expressions which are related to speech which share the root "m.l.s." I do
not know the diachrony of either of these roots. If you are interested, you
could check out Leslau's Concise Dictionary of Gi'iz for comparison.
(Eitan Grossman)

Yours is a most interesting query, I never thought of the question before,
and I'm looking forward to reading your summary in the next few days or
weeks. I can't offer much more than you already know for French, but the
question brought back to my mind the 5-odd years when I studied Japanese
(on and off). You'll have to get confirmation of all that from more
authoritative sources, but the Japanese ideogram for "language" (pronounced
GO)is composed of the ideogram for "mouth" (a small rounded square), with
two or three pencil strokes above it (symbolizing the words coming out and
flying away), and associated with a cross that means "100". All together,
it adds up to "100 words flying", or something like that). I'll have to
check on my old books to confirm, for I'm giving you this from memory, but
you certainly have something to start from here.
(Jean-Charles KHALIFA)

The Japanese word which means "language" or "word" is 'kotoba'. This word
can be divided into two parts, koto and ha (>ba by rendaku). 'koto' seems to
mean "word", but interestingly, 'ha' means 'leaf'. Japanese had an old
expression 'koto-no ha' (word Gen leaf), which means words or language.
Speech activities are expressed by body-parts such as 'kuti' (mouth). There
are a lot of idioms including 'kuti'.
kuti-o kiku 'mouth Acc listen' = speak
kuti-o tozasu 'mouth Acc close' = be silent, not speak
kuti-ga tassha da 'mouth Nom healthy be' = eloquent
kuti-ga hera-nai 'mouth Nom decrease not' = speak to much,
being ironical or full of complaints
(used to describe 2nd or 3rd person)
kuti-kara saki-ni umare-ta 'mouth-from earlier-Loc born-was'
(be born mouth-first and then other parts of the body) = one who is very 
kuti-ga umai 'mouth Nom skillful' = good at persuading, talk skillfully
kuti-ga warui 'mouth Nom bad' = speak impolitely or be critical with others
kuti-ga sugiru 'mouth Nom excess' = say impolite things
kuti-ga suberu 'mouth Nom slip' = say something that one did not mean to say
kuti-ga karui 'mouth Nom light' = one who reveals secrets easily
kuti-ga katai 'mouth Nom hard (solid)' = one who do not reveal secrets
kuti-ga omoi 'mouth Nom heavy = one who does not speak much
There are many others and I cannot list them all.

sita 'tongue' is also used.
sita-ga suberu 'tongue Nom slip' = say something carelessly
sita-ga mawaru 'tongue Nom revolve (cycle)' = speak fast
sita-no ne-no kawaka-nu uti-ni 'tongue Gen root Gen dry not inside Loc'
(before one's tongue-root gets dry) = say one thing and then say something
sita-o maku 'tongue Acc roll' = become silent because of being surprised by
something great

Other body-parts
ha 'tooth'
ha-ni kinu kise-nu 'tooth Loc clothes put not' = speak very frankly
(Kazuko Shinohara)

My own observations dovetail with your own. In Salish languages, for
instance, a lexical suffix of shape /*-tsan/ refers to mouth, language,
leading edge or business end of just about anything.
In any case, the metaphor you refer to seems to be part of a larger
digestive-tract metaphor for language and speech. Note how, in English, we
can 'ruminate', chew on an idea for a while- unless we're really naive or
stupid, and just swallow whatever is handed us. Apparently mental analysis
and evaluation are equivalent to mastication. Suspicions are smells.
Mysteries are hard nuts to crack, while ideas that don't have a leg to stand
on are a bunch of crap, bullshit, or other waste extensions. So material
texture and toughness are involved here too as bases for ideas of
complexity of form and substance. Differences in how language is perceived
may be reflected in what upper digestive tract body part is chosen to
represent it. Gutteral sounds are often taken as (over)confident, so a
language which chooses the throat to stand for speech may have a different
attitude than one which chooses the lips (tentative evaluation) or tongue
(neutral). The chest may represent the lungs? (Jess Tauber)

I have data for you from Setswana. A language spoken mainly in Botswana and
South Africa, and certain small parts of Namibia and Zimbabwe. Language in
Setswana is "puo" synonymous with "speech" or "the act of talking"
(Thapelo Otlogetswe)

I just wanted to pass on the fact that in the Chadic languages of West
Africa, body part metaphors are also used for 'language'. Although in Hausa
the main term harshe also means 'tongue', in the group of Chadic languages I
am studying, the word used means "mouth", e.g., Polci bii, Sayanci vii,
Boghom pyok, all cognate with Hausa baki "mouth". (Ron Cosper)

In Konni, a Gur language of northern Ghana, the word for language is
/balika/ (where i here is really the IPA small cap i). This is derived from
the verb /bali/ 'say, tell'. The word for "voice" is the same as for
"throat". (Mike Cahill)

I have worked on a number of South American languages (besides other
languages) from the Arawak family in Northwest Amazonia; in most of them -
Bare, Warekena, Baniwa and Tucano - the word for language is pretty
straightforward: 'our talk', or 'our speech'. My main fieldlanguage Tariana
is rather interesting: to refer to a language one can say nu-sape-nipe
(1sg-talk-nominalizer) 'my talk', or nu-aku 'my speech', but the usual way
is to say nu-yarupe 'my thing, my way, my manner'. the word for tongue is
not used to refer to speech acts at all; but the word for mouth, -numa, got
grammaticalizaed as a classifier for 'word'. (Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald)

(By the way, in Tok Pisin nek (spelt nek, not neck) means voice, tune,
melody, and also neck, but not 'language' - see Mihalic's dictionary; the
word for language is tok or tok ples).
(Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald)

Tok Pisin /nek/ seems odd, but note that it also means "voice". I think
there is a progression neck/throat > voice > language, which can be
paralleled in Austronesian languages, e.g. Maori /reo/ "voice, language" is
ultimately from PAN *liqeR "neck". I can try to supply further data if
you're interested. More generally, I'm not entirely clear what sort of data
you are looking for, or what hypothesis you are trying to test.
(Ross Clark)

With reference to your inquiry on Linguist List. Here is a quote from Graham
Seal's "The Lingo; listening to Australian English", published by University
of New South Wales University Press, Sydney 1999, page 2.
"Although mostly taken for granted, the importance of the vernacular in
everyday life is apparent from the number of Lingoisms describing or
gossip (now often shortened to GOSS, as in GIVE US THE GOSS); STIR; SKITE; A
MAGGING... and so on."
He describes the use of the word Lingo as related to the Latin "lingua", and
meaning the folk language of Australia. (Linda Tait)

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