Lexical Acculturation in Native American Languages

Lexical Acculturation in Native American Languages

Lexical Acculturation in Native American Languages

Lexical Acculturation in Native American Languages

Synopsis

Lexical acculturation refers to the accommodation of languages to new objects and concepts encountered as the result of culture contact. This unique study analyzes a survey of words for 77 items of European culture (e.g. chicken, horse, apple, rice, scissors, soap, and Saturday) in the vocabularies of 292 Amerindian languages and dialects spoken from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. The first book ever to undertake such a large and systematic cross-language investigation, Brown's work provides fresh insights into general processes of lexical change and development, including those involving language universals and diffusion.

Excerpt

In 1493, as head of an armada of 17 ships, Columbus made his second voyage to America. In addition to 1,200 men, on board these vessels were animals and plants never before seen by Native Americans: horses, pigs, cattle, chickens, sheep, and goats; and barley, wheat, chick-peas, melons, radishes, salas green, sugarcane and fruit trees in the forms of seeds, stones, and cuttings (Crosby 1991:77-79; Viola 1991:12). Thus began the first major episode in the great Columbian exchange in which objects and concepts were transferred from the Old World to the New and vice versa (cf. Crosby 1972). Columbus and subsequent travelers to the Americas would return to Europe with various items of New World origin, including many food plants that would become common fare in Western diets, for example, cacao (chocolate), chili pepper, corn (maize), peanut, potato, pumpkin, raspberry, strawberry, sunflower, sweet potato, tomato, and vanilla (Foster and Cordell 1992: 163-167).

Both Native Americans and Europeans adjusted in various ways to novel items encountered in the great exchange. This adjustment often initially entailed the linguistic problem of deciding what names to give new things. Various solutions were found by Europeans. For example, the tomato is a close relative of the eggplant, and Europeans seized on this fact in naming the new fruit (Davidson 1992:7). In France, the eggplant was called pomme des Maures, "fruit of the Moors," because of its popularity among Arabs. This name was applied to the introduced tomato but mispronounced as pomme d'amour ("love fruit"), thus yielding an early French label for the item. (A similar process produced pomodoro in Italy which is the current Italian term for tomato.) Another approach was to create descriptive labels for things of New World origin, for example, French pomme de terre for the potato, literally, "apple of the earth." Frequently, Native American words for introduced entities were borrowed. For example, the English word "tomato" (cf. Spanish tomate) is a loanword modeled on tomatl, the Nahuatl (Aztec) term for the fruit.

These European naming strategies are examples of lexical acculturation, which refers to the accommodation of languages to new objects and concepts encountered as a result of culture contact. Although the systematic study of how European languages named items introduced from the New World to the Old has yet to be undertaken (and, clearly, this would be richly informative), the focus of this book is on linguistic aspects . . .

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