[Lingtyp] Languages with connotations for 'left' and 'right'

Maia Ponsonnet maia.ponsonnet at uwa.edu.au
Fri Mar 1 09:35:07 UTC 2019

Dear Horia,

In Dalabon, an Australian language of the Gunwinyguan family (non-Pama-nyungan), there are specific terms for the left hand and the right hand, as follows:

bala-weh 'left hand'


bala-mon 'right hand'


bala is no longer used with this sense 'hand' outside of these compounds (hand/finger is langu).

Dalabon uses cardinals and geocentric terms to indicate directions, and I have not observed that bala-weh and bala-mon were used for this. In fact, when communicating in English with older Dalabon speakers, the terms 'left' and 'right' were usually not helpful to convey information about spatial orientation.

bala-mon and bala-weh are not used to talk about omen or fortune either.

So these expressions strictly designate each hand as a body part. Given that a vast proportion of the population is right-handed, these compounds are basically conveniently descriptive for a majority of people.

Good luck with your research and kind regards,


Dr Maïa Ponsonnet

Senior Lecturer and Chair, Discipline of Linguistics

Social Sciences Building, Room 2.36

Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Education
The University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Hwy, Perth, WA (6009), Australia
P.  +61 (0) 8 6488 2870 - M.  +61 (0) 468 571 030

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Horia Calugareanu <horia.calugareanu at gmail.com>
Sent: Thursday, 28 February 2019 8:22 PM
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: [Lingtyp] Languages with connotations for 'left' and 'right'

Dear colleagues,

I am putting together a semantic typology in order to test the following hypothesis:

Across languages, the word for left (side/direction) (or some derivation of it) tends to get a negative connotation, whereas the word for ‘right’ gets a positive one, if the effect exists.

Apart from Indo-European languages, where the effect is widely present, this is a non-exhaustive list of languages which prove the thesis: Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Fula, Golpa, Hungarian, Malay, Turkish.

Do you know of any other (preferably non-Indo-European) languages which help confirm or infirm the generalisation?

Finally, I am also researching whether the effect holds anyhow in languages with allocentric frames of reference (i.e. uphill/downhill, or north/south, instead of left/right). I haven’t been able to find any due to scarce resources, but some examples of languages with non-egocentric FoR are Tseltal, Haillom, Guugu Yimitirr, Kuuk Thaayorre.

Thank you very much.

Kind regards,
Horia Călugăreanu
University College London
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