“Our language is very literal”

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For reasons perhaps more sociolinguistic than linguistic, Athapaskan languages rarely borrow in order to expand the lexicon. Instead, they opt for the recycling of a very small set of core stems through recombination or simple reinterpretation (involving metaphor and metonymy). The resulting lexical inventory is striking to cognitive linguists because of the way experiential reality and typologically common construal patterns are routinely exploited for lexical expansion. This paper presents figurative lexicalization strategies in Dene Sųłiné and argues that they are similar to patterns adopted by genetically unrelated languages. Importantly, a deeper understanding of the processes involved in Athapaskan lexicalization may help speakers continue to lexicalize new concepts in indigenous ways, thus helping sustain the health and viability of their languages.


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