Semantic Aspects of Linguistic Acculturation1


  • 1

    The field work on which this study is based was made possible by U.S.P.H.S. Grant MH-12691–01. I gratefully acknowledge this support. An earlier and somewhat modified version of the paper was read by Charles Frake, Frank Cancian, and William Geobegan, all of whom made valuable criticisms and suggestions. The paper as it now stands, however, is the author's responsibility, and his alone.


Acculturation involves changes in cultural content, which in turn may be reflected in shifts in the meanings of words. It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that anthropological studies of semantic change have traditionally taken the individual lexeme as a basic unit of analysis. This approach, though undeniably useful in some instances, is inadequate in others, especially when one must account for the fact that whole groups of semantically related lexemes undergo meaning extension simultaneously. In what follows, an example of this process is described and analyzed. The cognitive implications of “set extension” are touched upon, and a hypothesis is advanced to account for when it occurs. Our data come from the Southern Athapaskan-speaking Western Apache, and the methods used are basically those of ethnographic lexicography or “ethnoscience.”