Felix Ahlner

Lund University, Sweden




Body part terms in Kammu


This paper presents a descriptive and comparative overview of words for body part in the Mon-Khmer language Kammu. In Greenberg’s four-tome Universals of Human Language (1978), Andersen proposed a set of universals for the linguistic organization of human body parts. One basic concept was that body part terms are ordered in partonomies, e.g. that a finger is part of a hand, which is part of an arm etc. In a special issue of Language Sciences, Majid et al (2006) present new data from a number of languages from all over the world. The outcome shows that partonomical relations are far from the only connections that exist between body parts. Other important relations include ”location, connectedness, and general association” (2006:199).

The descriptive part of this paper shows that Kammu indeed contains different systems for organizing the body, and the elicited lexical data present several interesting and amusing details. The comparative part benefits from Majid et al, whose special issue contained data both from Lao (Enfield 2006) and from the Aslian language Jahai (Burenhult 2006). Are there still any similarities between Kammu and Jahai, several millennia after the two languages split? In what ways has the genetically unrelated language Lao affected Kammu’s body part terms over the past centuries?



Andersen, Elaine S. (1978). ‘Lexical universals of body-part terminology’, in Greenberg 1978, pp. 335–368.

Burenhult, Niclas (2006). ‘Body part terms in Jahai’, in Majid et al. 2006 (eds.), pp. 162–180.

Enfield, Nick J. (2006). ‘Lao body part terms’, in Majid et al. 2006 (eds.), pp.181–200. Greenberg, Joseph H. (ed.) (1978) Universals of human language, Vol. 3: Word structure. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Majid, Asifa; Enfield, Nick J.; van Staden, Miriam (eds.) (2006). Parts of the body: cross-linguistic categorisation. Special issue of Language Sciences, 28:2–3, pp. 137–360.