[Lingtyp] query: "animal"

Randy LaPolla randy.lapolla at gmail.com
Sun Oct 14 01:59:57 UTC 2018

Hi David,
The categories as you have them (1-8) reflect certain cultural conceptions, and so won’t be the same for other cultures. For example, in Chinese bats were traditionally seen as flying mice, and lizards were seen as four-legged snakes. 
The word in Chinese that we translate as ‘animal’ is dòngwù (動物), ‘moving thing’. 

Sent from my iPhone

> On 14 Oct 2018, at 12:33 AM, David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de> wrote:
> 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
> -- 
> 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
> Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
> Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816
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