Kaytetye Flora and Fauna


Myf Turpin: Semantic extension in Kaytetye flora and fauna terms. AJL 33/4

Flora and fauna play a vital role in Indigenous cultures and their nomenclature reveals much about the society from which they belong. This article identifies the lexical structures and types of metaphor and metonymy that are used for naming plants and animals in Kaytetye, a language of central Australia. By linking semantic analysis to detailed ethnography this paper elucidates the cultural connections that underlie polysemous biota terms. Various types of semantic extension are found, including ‘sign metonymy’, where two or more species share a name because one signals the availability of the other. A subtype of this is what I call ‘meaningful call’ metonymy. This is where an onomatopoeic bird name has lexical content, and thus the bird ‘says’ the signalled phenomena. The paper also finds that alternate register terms turn up in everyday words for biota. The aim of this paper is thus twofold: to demonstrate the importance of investigating socio-cultural practices, multiple speech registers and ecological phenomena for understanding patterns of polysemy and diachronic semantics; and to identify the range of semantic extensions that give rise to biota nomenclature in Kaytetye, where we find the previously undescribed ‘meaningful call’ metonymy.