Are there any word-meanings which are absolute and precise lexico-semantic universals, and if so, what kind of meanings are they? This paper assesses the status, in a diverse range of languages, of about 100 meanings which have been proposed by various scholars (linguists, anthropologists, psychologists) as potential universals. Examples include: ‘I’, ‘this’, ‘one’, ‘big’, ‘good’, ‘true’, ‘sweet’, ‘hot’, ‘man’, ‘mother’, ‘tree’, ‘water’, ‘sun’, ‘wind’, ‘ear’, ‘say’, ‘do’, ‘go’, ‘sit’, ‘eat’, ‘give’, ‘die’, ‘maybe’, ‘because’. Though relatively small, the sample is variegated enough to justify the preliminary conclusion that the semantic primes proposed by Wierzbicka (1996) and colleagues are much stronger contenders for universal status than are terms designating natural phenomena, body parts, concrete objects, and other putative experiential or cultural universals.
Linguistic Typology – de Gruyter
Published: Jul 16, 2001
Keywords: basic vocabulary; lexical universals; lexicon; Natural Semantic Metalanguage; polysemy; semantic primes; semantics
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