Comparing lexicons cross-linguistically
Comparing lexicons cross-linguistically. In J. R. Taylor (Ed.
), The Oxford Handbook of the Word
(pp. 364-379). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199641604.013.020.
The lexicon is central to the concerns of disparate disciplines and has correspondingly elicited conflicting proposals about some of its foundational properties. Some suppose that word meanings and their associated concepts are largely universal, while others note that local cultural interests infiltrate every category in the lexicon. This chapter reviews research in two semantic domains—perception and the body—in order to illustrate crosslinguistic similarities and differences in semantic fields. Data is considered from a wide array of languages, especially those from small-scale indigenous communities which are often overlooked. In every lexical field we find considerable variation across cultures, raising the question of where this variation comes from. Is it the result of different ecological or environmental niches, cultural practices, or accidents of historical pasts? Current evidence suggests that diverse pressures differentially shape lexical fields.