Semantics of Kinship Terms in Tamil from the Semantic Typology Point of View

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In this article the author examines the lexical-semantic group “kinship terms” in Tamil, applying the attainments of modern semantic typology and the theory of semantic derivation. The kinship terms describing nuclear and extended family are explored. The “semantic shift” relation between two different meanings is established if such relation is realized by synchronous polysemy in one lexeme, semantic derivation, diachronic semantic change, cognates or some other means. The starting point of the study is the typological data from the DatSemShift catalogue of semantic shifts in languages of the world developed by a group of researchers under the guidance of Anna A. Zalizniak in the Institute of Linguistics, RAS. We verify the presence of semantic shifts described in the Database in Tamil. Also, we propose new semantic shifts specific only for this language. We confirm the presence of semantic relation of the studied type among the meanings with English “labels”: father - parents, girl - daughter, to deliver (a child) - parents, - child, old woman - wife, owner - wife and others. The data also allows the assumption that the same relation exists between the meanings: old - grandfather, earth - mother, son - courage, unripe - son and others. The meanings of this field are the sources of semantic movements to abstract notions, lexicon of posession, forms of address and others; in addition many inner semantic relations inside this field are revealed. The meanings covering the nuclear part of the kinship system participate in universal semantic shifts described in the DatSemShift catalogue, while the meanings from collateral branches of this bifurcative kinship system (uncle, aunt) turn out to be incomparable with kinship terms from indo-european lineal systems. Their meanings can be included in the DatSemShift catalogue only with an indication of system specifics. The information about semantic shifts can be useful for explanatory and translation dictionaries, for anthropological research and for reconstruction of meaning in historical linguistics. Systematic understanding of the semantic connections in the kinship terms allows a different vision of their place in the conceptual space of the Tamil culture.

About the authors

Anna Aleksandrovna Smirnitskaya

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Rozhdestvenka str., 12/1, Moscow, Russia, 107031


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