[Lingtyp] Colexification between 'mother', 'breast', and 'eat/drink'

Jess Tauber tetrahedralpt at gmail.com
Tue Oct 26 10:15:53 UTC 2021

In Yahgan (a critically endangered Native American language from Tierra del
Fuego, which I've studied for nearly a quarter century), the standard word
for 'mother' is da:bi (colon marks tenseness of the vowel preceding it in
the keyboard-friendly orthography I developed), while the set of words for
'breast' includes chvmmvsh (v represents schwa), chvmmvsha, chvmmvshka,
tvmmvsha, while da:pvsh is both 'breast' and 'milk'. So traces of dialect
mixing or augmentative/diminutive shifting of what were originally
variations on the same theme back in the day.

And 'eat' is normally atama, where ama represents 'food' in general (but
fatty sea mammals used for food in particular). vndvpa is generic for
'meat'. In the inclement climate of Tierra del Fuego (cold and wet),
inhabitants went around nearly naked, keeping fires going at all times to
warm themselves against. When they cooked they only rarely did so
completely- usually only enough heat to melt the fat within morsels being
prepared. They often woke at all hours of the night to have a nosh, and
when they put on weight by overeating, it would just as quickly melt off
their bodies.

Another form likely related to the original set I mentioned above (and
which I'm now only realizing) is muru:, meaning 'suck'. Because of the
morphophonetic changes in word building, this shows up in combination as
The word for 'drink' is vla, and there appears to be a very old alternation
(likely sound-symbolic) between /l/ and /sh/ in the language, based on
internal reconstruction I did years ago.

There is also a form ushkuru: meaning 'swallow, gulp down, eat' which
appears to be part of this same system

Jess Tauber

On Tue, Oct 26, 2021 at 4:29 AM ENRIQUE BERNARDEZ SANCHIS <
ebernard at filol.ucm.es> wrote:

> Hi, Ian. In Cha'palaa, a language spoken in NW Ecuador, the root  ču-
> appears in derivatives meaning "mother / breast / milk / drink". It is just
> a matter of adding nominal or verbal inflection.
> Enrique
> El mar, 26 oct 2021 a las 10:00, Daniel Ross (<djross3 at gmail.com>)
> escribió:
>> Dear Ian,
>> The typical cross-linguistic association is with the form "mama" for
>> mother, based on the phonetic articulation closest to nursing, which
>> appears in too many languages to be coincidental or due to contact.
>> (Variants of this follow, such as baba/papa for 'father' and some other
>> CV-doublets. There's a whole series of them in Swahili, for instance: mama
>> mother, baba father, dada sister, kaka brother, nyanya grandmother, and
>> some others that aren't exact copies like babu father or mtoto child.)
>> My guess would be that this association with "mother" could block other
>> lexical developments for the word. This might be encouraged by mothers who
>> want their child's first word to be referring to them, or at least that's
>> the impression I have from American culture.
>> On the other hand, there may be further uses or derivations of this form
>> in some languages, such as Latin *mamma* 'breast' and other derivations
>> like *mammalia* (class of animals producing milk, i.e. with breasts).
>> A related proposal of an ancient cognate in the (now disputed) Amerind
>> family is maliq'a ('swallow, throat'), from Greenberg and Ruhlen's 1992
>> paper "Linguistic Origins of Native Americans":
>> https://www.jstor.org/stable/24939295 and Ruhlen then expanded this to
>> claim a possible Proto-World etymology in his 1994 book *On the Origin
>> of Languages*. While many of us would be hesitant to accept such an
>> extreme reconstruction, the data provided there from various languages and
>> families is directly relevant to your question, and in fact could be a
>> better explanation for recurrent similar etymologies, rather than ancient
>> relationship or coincidence, as appears to be the case with *mama*.
>> (These etymologies seem tied together, with the Indo-European variants of
>> maliq'a meaning "milk", for example.)
>> Daniel Ross
>> ALT Webmaster
>> Lecturer, UC Riverside
>> On Tue, Oct 26, 2021 at 12:35 AM JOO, Ian [Student] <
>> ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk> wrote:
>>> Dear typologists,
>>> Are you aware of any language that colexifies (uses the same lexeme for)
>>> the following four concepts: 'mother', 'breast', and 'eat/drink'?
>>> The logic is that, the mother's breast is usually the first thing that a
>>> newborn baby "eats", so it would be natural if a language colexified these
>>> concepts, especially in baby-talk vocabulary.
>>> I would much appreciate your help.
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> --
> Enrique Bernárdez
> Profesor Honorífico de Lingüística General
> Departamento de Lingüística, Estudios Árabes, Hebreos y de Asia Oriental
> Facultad de Filología
> Universidad Complutense de Madrid
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