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Talking about color and taste on the Trobriand Islands - a diachronic study


Senft,  Gunter
Language and Cognition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Categories across Language and Cognition, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Senft, G. (2009). Talking about color and taste on the Trobriand Islands - a diachronic study. Talk presented at 8th International Conference for Oceanic Linguistics. University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. 2009-01-04 - 2009-01-09.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-63B0-9
How stable is the lexicon for perceptual experiences? This paper presents results on how the Trobrianders talk about taste and color, and how these have changed over the years. In 2008 I continued fieldwork on the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea with the aim of researching the Trobriand Islanders’ language of perception. In 1983 I collected data on Kilivila color terms. The first part of the paper compares these data with the data I collected in 2008. Some of the predictions I made about the development of color categories in 1983 were right. Integrating English color terms as foreign words, the Kilivila color term lexicon has changed from a typical stage IIIb into a stage VII color term lexicon (Berlin & Kay 1969). However, traditional color terms as well as folkbotany terms that refer to plants, fruits and soils used to make colors for dyeing grass-skirts are still used. I also compare the data on taste vocabulary that I collected in 1982/83 with the results of my 2008 taste term elicitation experiment with a taste kit developed by the language and cognition group. I could not find and observe substantial change in this domain. Concluding the paper I compare the 2008 results on taste terms with a paper on the taste vocabulary of the Torres Strait Islanders published in 1904 by Charles S. Myers. It turns out that some of his original results can still be verified. Kilivila provides evidence that terms used for talking about color and taste are relatively stable over time, with just a few effects of language change induced by language contact.