A Semantic Menagerie: The Conceptual Semantics of Ethnozoological Categories

Cover Page

Cite item


Following the seminal work of Wierzbicka (1985, 2013), this paper proposes and discusses a set of semantic analyses of words from three different levels of the English ethnozoological taxonomic hierarchy (Berlin 1992): creature (unique beginner), bird, fish, snake, and animal (life-form level), dog and kangaroo (generic level). The analytical framework is the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach (Wierzbicka 1996, 2014, Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014). Though ultimately resting on the foundational elements of the NSM system, i.e. 65 semantic primes and their inherent grammar of combination, the analysis relies on the analytical concepts of semantic molecules and semantic templates (Goddard 2012, 2016). These provide mechanisms for encapsulating semantic complexity and for modelling relations between successive layers of the hierarchy. Other issues considered include the extent to which cultural components feature in the semantics of ethnozoological categories, and the extent to which semantic knowledge may vary across different speech communities.

About the authors

Cliff Goddard

Griffith University

Email: c.goddard@griffith.edu.au
Professor of Linguistics at Griffith University. He is a leading proponent of the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach to semantics and its sister theory, the cultural scripts approach to pragmatics, also known as ethnopragmatics. His recent publications include the edited volume Minimal English for a Global World (2018 Palgrave), Words and Meanings: Lexical Semantics Across Domains, Languages and Cultures (co-authored with Anna Wierzbicka; 2014 OUP), the textbook Semantic Analysis (2nd ed., 2011 OUP) and Ten Lectures on Natural Semantic Metalanguage (2018 Brill). 170 Kessels Road, Nathan, Queensland 4111 Australia


  1. Apresjan, Ju D. (1969). O yazyke dlya opisaniya znachenii slov. Izvestiya Akademii Nauk SSSR, Seriya Literatury i Yazyka, 28, 415-28.
  2. Apresjan, Ju D. (1992[1974]). Lexical Semantics: User’s Guide to Contemporary Russian Vocabulary. Ann Arbor: Karoma. [Orig. published in 1974 as Leksicheskaya semantika - sinonimicheskie sredstva yazyka (In Russ.), Moskva: Nauka].
  3. Apresjan, Ju D. (2000). Systematic lexicography. (Windle, K. Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Atran, S. (1990). Cognitive foundations of natural history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Berlin, B. (1992). Ethnobiological classification: Principles of categorization of plants and animals in traditional society. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
  6. Bromhead, H. (2011). The bush in Australian English. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 31, 445-471.
  7. Brown, C. (1979). Folk zoological life forms: Their universality and growth. American Anthropologist,81, 791-817.
  8. Goddard, C. (ed.). (2008). Cross-linguistic semantics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  9. Goddard, C. (2009). Cultural scripts. In Senft, G., Östman, J-O, & Verschueren, J. (eds.), Culture and language use. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 68-80.
  10. Goddard, C. (2011). Semantic analysis. A practical introduction. Revised 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  11. Goddard, C. (2012). Semantic primes, semantic molecules, semantic templates: Key concepts in the NSM approach to lexical typology. Linguistics, 50(3), 711-743.
  12. Goddard, C. (2016). Semantic molecules and their role in NSM lexical definitions. Cahiers de lexicologie 2016-2, No 109, 13-36.
  13. Goddard, C. (2017). Furniture, vegetables, weapons: Functional collective superordinates in the English lexicon. In Ye, Z. (ed.) The semantics of nouns. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 246-281.
  14. Goddard, C. (2018). Minimal English: The science behind it. In Goddard, C. (ed.) Minimal English for a global world: Improved communication using fewer words. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 29-70.
  15. Goddard, C. & Wierzbicka, A. (eds.) (2002). Meaning and universal grammar: Theory and empirical findings, 2 vols. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  16. Goddard, C. & Wierzbicka, A. (2014). Words and meanings: Lexical semantics across domains, languages and cultures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  17. Haviland, J. B. (1974). A last look at Cook’s Guugu-Yimidhirr wordlist. Oceania, 44 (3), 216-232. [http://pages.ucsd.edu/~jhaviland/Publications/HavilandOceania.pdf]
  18. Kripke, S. (1977). Naming and necessity. In Davidson, D. & G. Harman (eds.), Semantics of natural language. Dordrecht: Reidel, 253-355.
  19. Hare, B., Brown, M., Williamson, K. & Tomasello, M. (2002). The domestication of social cognition in dogs. Science 298, 1634-1636.
  20. Rosch, E. (1977). Human categorization. In Warren, N. (ed.), Advances in cross-cultural psychology.Vol. 1. London: Academic Press, 1-49.
  21. Rosch, E. (1978). Principles of categorization. In Rosch, E. & B. Lloyd (eds.), Cognition and categorization. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 27-48.
  22. Wierzbicka, A. (1985). Lexicography and conceptual analysis. Ann Arbor: Karoma. Wierzbicka, A. (1996). Semantics: Primes and universals. New York: Oxford University Press.
  23. Wierzbicka, A. (2007). Bodies and their parts: An NSM approach to semantic typology. Language Sciences, 29(1), 14-65.
  24. Wierzbicka, A. (2009). The theory of the mental lexicon. In Kempgen, S., P. Kosta, B. Tilman & I. Gutschmidt (eds.), The Slavic languages: An international handbook of their structure, their history and their investigation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 848-863.
  25. Wierzbicka, A. (2013). Polish zwierzęta ‘animals’ and jabłka ‘apples’: an ethnosemantic inquiry. In Głaz, A., Danaher, D.S. & Łozowski, P. (eds.), The linguistic worldview: Ethnolinguistics, cognition, and culture. London: Versita, 137-159.
  26. Wierzbicka, A. (2014). Imprisoned in English: The hazards of English as a default language. New York: Oxford University Press.
  27. Wierzbicka, A. (2015). Language and cultural scripts. In Sharifian, F. (ed.), The Routledge handbook of language and culture. Routledge, 339-56.
  28. Ye, Z. (ed.). (2017). The semantics of nouns. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Copyright (c) 2018 Goddard C.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies