Body part names and grammaticalization

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Toni Suutari investigates the development and grammaticalization of words that refer to body parts. An examination of Finno-Ugric words meaning ‘head’ reveals counterexamples to claims both about human egocentrism in semantic development and about the asserted unidirectionality of grammaticalization. Suutari shows that meanings of anatomical ‘head’ are often secondary. In other words, certain abstract relational expressions receive a concrete meaning as names for parts of the body and then subsequently become abstract once again. This claim has implications for grammaticalization. Suutari reviews the primary body-part names and the problems of the grammatical categorization of locative forms. The Finnish and Estonian locative expressions that include body-part names belong to two types, locatives and adpositions. Suutari shows that the metaphorical change from the meanings related to body parts to abstract meanings occurred after the grammaticalization had taken place. It is therefore argued that the concrete ‘body part’ > ‘object part’ meta­phor has no effect in these cases. The observations have broad implications for grammaticalization and categorization. They demonstrate that grammaticaliza­tion does not always involve changes from concrete to abstract or from lexical to grammatical, but grammaticalization may include stages where an abstract relational expression adopts a concrete meaning which in turn becomes grammaticalized.


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