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Semantic Reconstruction in Austronesian Linguistics

R. David Zorc

Date of publication:

December 31, 2004

The process of historical reconstruction invoices the search for similarities in four areas: sound, form, function, and meaning. Further, there can be four degrees of resemblance: identical, regular, irregular, or false. The mere fact that two words are formally similar will not do. Yet the principles of semantic reconstruction in Austronesian have generally been instated or ignored. I will be discussing some of the reconstructions and the inherent methodology of Dempwolff and earlier work of Dyen, and will touch upon
Dyen's later refinements (with Aberle). Blust's exemplary work is also examined. Illustrations and exemplifications also come from several original PAN, PMP, PPH, or lower order reconstructions where the semantic unification is particularly problematic. Relevant sections deal with the
following points: 1) The past is relatively silent, but important steps have recently been made (especially by Blust) which should guide us in the art and science of assigning meanings to etyma. 2) We should strive far a full citation ef semantic information far
each entry. 3) We need a careful investigation of the breadth and meaning of cognates within any given set. 4) We should compare and contrast all information with synchronic values within the semantic system of the languages
presented. 5) Having done 2, 3, and 4, we can only then successfully undertake the extrapolation of a common core, i.e., the assignment of semantic kernels to the etymon. While in many cases the results may be trivial, there are some ehich are no less than fascinating. 6) We can evaluate our results by consulting current and past semantic theory. Semantic relationships such as synonymy, antonymy, metonymy, metaphor, sunedoche, taboo, etc. serve as a system of checks and balances for our method. 7) We should appreciate the importance of semantic innovations. These can play as significant role in subgrouping languages as do the phonological or lexical one we have so comely to rely upon.

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