[Lexicog] Lacunae-what should then go in the dictionary?

Conor McDonough Quinn quinn at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Wed May 5 03:17:59 UTC 2004

Dia dhaoibh, a chairde!

Actually, the original question wasn't mine---whose was it again?  And
judging by Rich's response, it sounds like we're on the same page.  That
is, as per my own response (which is below the incorporated portion of
the original question), it seems that an (anthropological) linguistic
identification bases itself primarily (though of course not exclusively)
on how the speakers themselves identify the organism in question.  Hence
the clear problems with field guide-alone approaches, and hence also my
emphasis on asking consultants not so much to gloss the organism in the
contact language (which is where the most room for error lies, as the
discussion has made clear), but to provide as much information in the
*target* language as is reasonably possible about the organism in

This means not just physical description, but also use (Food? Medicine?)
and other distinguishing characteristics (Where does it grow? When is its
mating season?).  Besides facilitating a formal Linnaean
identification, this information is valuable in its own right (possibly
even more so than for said identification), particularly insofar as it
helps pick out where there are mismatches between the speech community's
taxonomic system (and internal diversity thereof) and that of the
recorder, which in turn represents new and distinctive knowledge.

Whether lumping together distinct porcupine types or splitting them even
finer than we do (perhaps based not on species, but on variation due to
regional/seasonal-influenced diet, or developmental stage, or any number
of imaginable and unimaginable factors), it's this knowledge that we're
out to uncover and make accessible, if we're bothering to collect such
terms at all.  Again, all in practical moderation of course, but this is
at least a reasonable ideal.  I guess, then, that a useful question to ask
is, when does/should the dictionary end and the encyclopedia of cultural
knowledge begin?  I lean always towards the latter without reservation
(again, practical considerations of time and resources notwithstanding);
what do you all think?

bhur gcara

On Tue, 4 May 2004 rrhodes at cogsci.berkeley.edu wrote:

> Connor,
> 	Sorry for the late response. The real thing to do is to
> collect samples and take them to the botanist, ornithologist,
> whatever. Mostly, we don't do that for a variety of reasons. (I
> wouldn't want to take those two porcupines that the locals insisted
> are very different in to be examined.) Sometimes really good nature
> guide books help, but that's second best -- and there are lots of
> misidentifications from pictures alone. Getting an extensive
> description along with a tentative id from pictures is frequently the
> most practical. It doesn't hurt to collect such data even if you are
> taking an actual sample in.
> Cheers,
> Rich
> PS I have some other comments about lacunae, but I've been too busy
> to mail in a blog. Mostly the question revolves around who gets to
> call what a lacuna?
> At 12:20 AM -0400 4/28/04, Conor McDonough Quinn wrote:
> >Dia dhuit, a chara!
> >
> >>  The problem that I have encountered is that the natives came up
> >>with lots of words for plants and animals (and not only) that they
> >>don't know what it is in French. So, I ended up with a long, long
> >>lists of "sort of...(plant, animal etc.)". Now that is more or less
> >>OK for now, for this little dictionary. But what about a bigger,
> >>broader dictionary? There might be plants or animals that have not
> >>even been discovered yet by "westerners" or botanists or
> >>zoologists!?
> >One way to deal with this is just to get people to describe everything
> >they know about that plant/animal/other, in the language.  This makes for
> >a good definition, tends to elicit other vocabulary you might never
> >have run into, collects valuable (and often lexicographically crucial)
> >cultural knowledge, and greatly facilitates identifying that
> >plant/animal/other for specialists, both in/of the Linnaean taxonomic
> >tradition and in/of the indigenous ones.
> >
> >Sla/n,
> >do chara
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >Yahoo! Groups Links
> >
> >
> >
> >
> --
> ******************************************************************
>   Richard A. Rhodes
>   Department of Linguistics
>   University of California
>   Berkeley, CA 94720-2650
>   Voice (510) 643-7325
>   FAX (510) 643-5688
> ******************************************************************

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