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Workshop on Lexical Semantics and Polysemy in Melanesian languages
UNIPA Manokwari
27th - 28th January
Nicholas Evans (ANU /CoEDL), Danielle Barth (ANU/CoEDL)

  'of all linguistic branches, it is in semantics that the changes due to cultural development can best be seen at work, for meaning is the best barometer of cultural climate' (Leo Spitzer 1947:2)

This workshop will focus on how to investigate word-meaning, with a particular focus on meanings or meaning-chains which do not correspond neatly across languages. How do we characterise different cuts of reality across languages (e.g. between Indonesian kakak/adik vs English brother/sister), and how do we make sense of the way different languages extend meanings into groups of polysemies? How far do particular patterns of polysemy characterise linguistic areas, such as New Guinea / Melanesia? For example, extensions of nokin/bilum to mean womb/uterus, or of Tok Pisin inap or Nen pitas enough to mean can, OK are not available to English speakers, and similar non-equivalences are found for a large proportion of the vocabulary of any language of the Papuan area.

How do we investigate lexical meaning in a precise but culturally-sensitive way? How do we make sense of differences across languages? How do we assemble, and map, information about the patterning of meaning through a cultural area? How far do patterns of meaning cross language-family boundaries (e.g. Austronesian/Papuan) or pass into post-colonial contact languages like Tok Pisin or Melayu Papua. How can we use collocations  cooccurrences of words detectable through text searches  to understand the modulation of meaning? How should we handle meaning difference in making dictionaries? How do we deal with inter-speaker differences in meaning? These are among the topics to be covered in this workshop.

We will focus particularly on three languages of the New Guinea region for which we can assemble a combination of good text material, reasonable dictionaries and speakers of the language (most probably Wooi, Yali and one further language). However, insights from speakers of or researchers on any Melanesian language of the Papuan area will be welcome to participate.

The workshop is open to anyone interested in the semantics of Papuan/Melanesian languages.

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Page last modified: 22 Dec 2016, Melbourne