LINGUIST List 13.2110

Fri Aug 16 2002

Sum: "Face"/"Eye" Polysemy

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. george huttar, 'face'/'eye' polysemy

Message 1: 'face'/'eye' polysemy

Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 13:07:44 -0400
From: george huttar <>
Subject: 'face'/'eye' polysemy

 On 26 July I asked in what languages the occurrence of a single

 lexeme for 'face' and 'eye' is found, in addition to those already

 mentioned in the literature Sango, Tarascan, 30 or so Mayan languages, Ijo

 and Berbice Dutch Creole). First, my thanks to the following respondents:

 Paul Boersma (Dutch)
 Mike Cahill (Konni)
 Rod Casali (Nawuri...)
 Stefan Dienst (Bambara)
 Robert Early (Austronesian, Eastern Oceanic, Lewo) 

 Johanna Laakso (Estonian, Finnish)
 Richard Laurent (Greek)
 Mark A. Mandel (Greek)
 Wiltrud Mihatsch (Cahuilla, Ojibway, Quechua, Warao, Upper Sorbian, Basque 
 Hans Schmidt (Rotuman)
 Uwe Seibert (Chadic)
 Pete Unseth (Gimira [3D Bench}, Majang) 
 Bart van der Veer (Dutch)

 Second, the replies show that the polysemy in question is quite 

 widespread (though nothing was reported for most of Asia), with the 

 use of the same lexeme for 'face' and 'eye' reported for the following


 Homeric Greek

 Eastern Oceanic (reconstructed) and (all? many?) descendants--e.g., 

 Lewo of Vanuatu, Rotoman/Rotuman of Fiji); but separate forms are 

 reconstructed for Austronesian


 Konni (Gur, Ghana) -- 'face' 3D 'eyes' (pl.)

 Gimira (Omotic, Ethiopia)

 Majang (Surmic, Ethiopia, contiguous to preceding language)

 Chadic languages

 Bambara (Mande, Mali & other countries)

 North America:

 Cahuilla (Uto-Aztecan, USA)

 Ojibwa(y)(Algonquian, Canada)

 South America

 Quechua/Quichua, Ecaudor Highland (Quechuan)

 Warao (isolate, Guyana)

 Third, several replies mentioned derivational or compounding 

 relationships between 'face' and 'eye', or relationships between 

 'face' and 'sight':

 Estonian nE4gu 'face' - cf. nE4ge- 'to see'

 Finnish "metonymic use of "silmE4t" ('eyes' [pl.]) denoting 

 'face', at least in some special contexts as in "pestE4 silmE4n

 'to wash one's eyes 3D face'."

 Dutch gezicht 'face', 'sight (power of seeing)', 'sight 

 (something seen)'

 Nawuri (Kwa, Ghana; possibly other Guang languages such as 

 Chumburu) "the word for face is a compound of the plural for 

 'eyes' with a postposition meaning at, literally 'at the eyes'."

 Upper Sorbian (Slavic, Germany) and Basque (France & Spain) 

 'face' 3D 'between the eyes'


 Finally, special thanks to Wiltrud Mihatsch who pointed out the 

 following article: BROWN, C. H./WITKOWSKI, S. R. (1985): Polysemy, 

 lexical change and cultural importance, _Man_ 18, 72-89, and further 


 Besides FACE/EYE polysemies, there are many compounds with EYE, 

 MOUTH, NOSE etc. that mean FACE, or polysemies with other parts 

 of the face all over the world.

 ...the observations I send you are from a research project that 

 collects and analyses sources of body part lexemes in a large 

 sample of languages (for further information:

 The site mentioned has connections to a number of interesting 

 abstracts and other items on the semantics of body-part terms in many 


 George Huttar

 Box 24686
 00502 Karen
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