Amonrat Rattanawong

Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University, Thailand




Polysemy in Mlabri Body-Part Terms


For speakers of Mlabri, a small Kmuic language of Mon-Kmer, one way to accommodate innovative items into their language is by extending the meanings of body-part terms. The meanings of the word tiʔ range from human's 'hands' to animal's 'front legs' to car's 'front wheels'. This indicates how Mlabri speakers make use of limited lexicon to represent new concepts. Thus, it is a challenge to find a method to clarify the Mlabri polysemous body-part terms.

The theoretical framework of 'Natural Semantic Metalanguage' is an effective method to explicate cultural specific lexicon via deliberately selected, sixty primitive words, having been proved to appear in all languages (Weirzbikca, 1972, 1996). They could be used to describe the phenomenon of polysemous words in Mlabri body-part terms by reductively paraphrase them through simple sentences. This very basic method is supposed to help elucidate particular concepts in the indigenous culture of Mlabri people.



Weirzbicka, A. (1972). Semantic Primitives. Frankfurt. Athenaum.

Weirzbicka, A. (1996). Semantics: primes and universals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.