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Journal Article

Talking about color and taste on the Trobriand Islands: A diachronic study


Senft,  Gunter
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Categories across Language and Cognition, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language documentation and data mining;

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Senft, G. (2011). Talking about color and taste on the Trobriand Islands: A diachronic study. The Senses & Society, 6(1), 48 -56. doi:10.2752/174589311X12893982233713.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-BB2E-C
How stable is the lexicon for perceptual experiences? This article presents results on how the Trobriand Islanders of Papua New Guinea talk about color and taste and whether this has changed over the years. Comparing the results of research on color terms conducted in 1983 with data collected in 2008 revealed that many English color terms have been integrated into the Kilivila lexicon. Members of the younger generation with school education have been the agents of this language change. However, today not all English color terms are produced correctly according to English lexical semantics. The traditional Kilivila color terms bwabwau ‘black’, pupwakau ‘white’, and bweyani ‘red’ are not affected by this change, probably because of the cultural importance of the art of coloring canoes, big yams houses, and bodies. Comparing the 1983 data on taste vocabulary with the results of my 2008 research revealed no substantial change. The conservatism of the Trobriand Islanders' taste vocabulary may be related to the conservatism of their palate. Moreover, they are more interested in displaying and exchanging food than in savoring it. Although English color terms are integrated into the lexicon, Kilivila provides evidence that traditional terms used for talking about color and terms used to refer to tastes have remained stable over time.