[Lingtyp] query: "animal"

Hartmut Haberland hartmut at ruc.dk
Sat Oct 13 18:00:00 UTC 2018

Three comments:
In German, 1.-7. would work.
Where are fish like plaice, turbot, or eel? Category 2a?
My wife, L1 speaker of English, often commented on my typical German concept of Tier (1.-7.), when I referred to birds, fish and insects as animals which I stopped doing now.
Turbots have more axes of symmetry than anyone who ever filleted one for sushi will agree with me are convenient.
In my opinion, the cut-off point for English is after 1.
I use Danish dyr like German Tier and nobody ever commented on it in 40+ years.
What about bacteria (6a)? At least they move.
Den 13. okt. 2018 kl. 18.35 skrev David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de<mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>>:

Dear all,

I am interested in exploring, cross-linguistically, the semantic range of words that correspond more or less to the English word "animal".

Here are examples of the things that English "animal" refers to:

1. dog, kangaroo, lizard, frog ...
2. eagle, sparrow, chicken, bat ...
3. bee, scorpion, spider, centipede ...
4. crab, shrimp ...
5. worm, leech ...
6. starfish, jellyfish, squid, octopus ...
7. oyster, clam ...
8. sponge (?) ...

I am looking for examples of languages in which the basic word closest to English "animal" is nevertheless different in its coverage.  In particular, I would like to find instances — if such exist — of languages in which there is a basic word that covers the examples in 1-4 (or maybe 1-5) to the exclusion of those in 5-8 (or maybe 6-8).   (Note that the question concerns every-day words that reflect our naive folk biological knowledge, not with scientific terms in those few languages that have such terminology.)

Some words of background:  A colleague and I working in experimental cognitive science have found (non-linguistic) empirical evidence for the psychological reality of an ontological category that consists roughly of animals of the kind exemplified in 1-4 (and possibly also 5).  We are calling this category "higher animals".  The characteristic prototypical features of higher animals include a single axis of symmetry, the existence of head, torso and limbs, a face in the front of the head that includes sensory organs such as eyes, and a mouth for eating, and the ability to move forward in the direction that the head is facing.  A challenge that we face is that, in the (few) languages that we are familiar with, there is no simple word for higher animals.  But we are hoping that other languages might have such a word.  in addition, we would also welcome grammatical evidence for the category of higher animals, for example in the form of grammatical rules that are sensitive to the animacy hierarchy by making reference to a cut-off point between higher and other animals.

I look forward to your responses.  Thanks,


David Gil

Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany

Email: gil at shh.mpg.de<mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de>
Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816

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