LINGUIST List 6.1126

Sat Aug 19 1995

Sum: "ear"

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Alexis Manaster Ramer, Summary: Borrowings or Replacements of 'ear'

Message 1: Summary: Borrowings or Replacements of 'ear'

Date: Fri, 18 Aug 1995 20:47:34 Summary: Borrowings or Replacements of 'ear'
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: Summary: Borrowings or Replacements of 'ear'

Some time I posted a query as to whether the term for 'ear' is ever
borrowed, or at least replaced by a neologism:

Here is a summary of the responses, for all of which I am very
grateful and which I will again acknowledge in print, as the
occasion presents (an earlier summary contained other relevant
discussion of the same topic):

 Benji Wald (IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU) reports that In Bantu
the near-universal word for "ear" has the root *to. However, in
Sabaki (Kenyan coastal Bantu, e.g., Swahili, Pokomo, Miji Kenda)
the word is *sikilo (e.g., Swahil sikio). This is based on the
root *sikil "hear" (e.g. Swahili sikia 'hear'); the final -o is a
Bantu nominaliser. The most widespread Bantu word for "hear" is not
related to *sikil but has the morpheme *gu. Thus in most of Bantu
the roots for "ear" and "hear" are not related.

 He also notes that some Cushitic languages also derive 'ear'
from 'hear', Somali deg "ear" deg-eyso "hear", and suspects that
the Sabaki Bantu construction for "ear" came about through contact,
probably from Cushitic. **To this I would add that this also gives
an example of replacement within Afro-Asiatic, of which Cushitic is
a part, since clearly this word is not related to, for example, the
Semitic word (Hebrew ozen, etc.) -- AMR **

 Bruce Connell ( reports that, according
to Wilkins, David (1993) From part to person: Natural tendencies of
semantic change and the search for cognates. Cognitive
Anthropology Research Group, Max Planck Institute for
Psycholinguistics, Working Paper No. 23:

 a) Semantic shift of 'ear' to 'head' is attested in Bantu;
 languages unspecified, but Guthrie (1967-71) is ultimate

 b) In Dravidian, 'earring' shifts to 'ear'; again languages
 unspecified, Burrow and Emaneau (1961) is ultimate source.

 I have also independently, i.e., extra-LINGUIST-ically, found
out that Laurent Sagart argues that Bai (a minority language of
China, I believe, whose genetic affiliations are controversial)
borrowed its word for 'ear' from Chinese, but that is not
universally accepted. Likewise, I have found an article by
Gregersen which assumes without detailed discussion that the
Vietnamese word for 'ear' is borrowed from Austronesian (while this
does not appear to be generally accepted either, it presumably at
least indicates that the word in question is not a reflex of the
Mon-Khmer prototype, and hence would be a replacement, but I have
not yet checked this out).

 Finally, I realized what I had been forgetting all along,
namely, that many (or is it all?) Indo-Aryan languages (from
Sanskrit on down) have a word for 'ear' which is clearly NOT the
Indo-European word for 'ear', and hence a particularly clear
example of a replacement.

 I thus still do not have an example of 'ear' being borrowed
which could be considered to be established beyond reasonable
doubt, and would appreciate any references to such.

In addition, I omitted the following response from my earlier
summary of responses to a more general query about the borrowing of
body part terms: (Henk Wolf): Dutch _neus_ (nose) in West
Frisian has become an alternative to the native _noas_ (see
Breuker, P. et al (1984) ,Foar de taalspegel; Koart oersjoch fan
Holl^anske ynsl^upsels yn it Frysk, Ljouwert: AFUK).
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