Semantic transparency and cultural calquing in the Northwest Amazon

Floyd, S. (2013). Semantic transparency and cultural calquing in the Northwest Amazon. In P. Epps, & K. Stenzel (Eds.), Upper Rio Negro: Cultural and linguistic interaction in northwestern Amazonia (pp. 271-308). Rio de Janiero: Museu do Indio. Retrieved from
The ethnographic literature has sometimes described parts of the northwest Amazon as areas of shared culture across linguistic groups. This paper illustrates how a principle of semantic transparency across languages is a key means of establishing elements of a common regional culture through practices like the calquing of ethnonyms and toponyms so that they are semantically, but not phonologically, equivalent across languages. It places the upper Rio Negro area of the northwest Amazon in a general discussion of cross-linguistic naming practices in South America and considers the extent to which a preference for semantic transparency can be linked to cases of widespread cultural ‘calquing’, in which culturally-important meanings are kept similar across different linguistic systems. It also addresses the principle of semantic transparency beyond specific referential phrases and into larger discourse structures. It concludes that an attention to semiotic practices in multilingual settings can provide new and more complex ways of thinking about the idea of shared culture.
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