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1 September 2010 Terms for the Unique Beginner: Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Perspectives
Matthias Urban
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This study is a cross-linguistic survey of terms for the ‘unique beginner’, defined as the highest and most inclusive rank in an ethnozoological taxonomy. Drawing on data from a world-wide sample of 149 languages, I show that terms corresponding to this category are often formally complex or characterized by polysemy. In addition, languages often lack a term for the unique beginner category altogether, confirming claims to this effect in the literature. Furthermore, I point out that the status of the unique beginner category and its lexical structure, in languages which have such a category, are positively correlated with mode of subsistence. Small-scale societies relying on hunting and/or gathering as the main mode of subsistence are likely to lack a term for the unique beginner, while those practicing advanced agriculture are the most likely to have a simplex unique beginner term not characterized by polysemy.

Matthias Urban "Terms for the Unique Beginner: Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Perspectives," Journal of Ethnobiology 30(2), 203-230, (1 September 2010).
Published: 1 September 2010
societal scale
unique beginner
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