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Diffusion & Change in Lexical Semantics Workshop, 5-6 July 2017

Archiving, Australian National University, Evolution, Shape

Date: 21 February 2017

Title: Diffusion and change in lexical semantics: Restriction, avoidance and 'tabu'

When: 5-6 July 2017

Venue: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building (9), ANU 

Organiser: Patrick McConvell

The theory and method of dealing with change in lexical semantics has been neglected in linguistics and anthropology. This workshop will contribute to righting this situation by

  1. Assessing recent contributions advancing the study of polysemy e.g Vanhove ed. 2008; McConvell & Ponsonnet 2013.
  2. Exploring research on Austronesian, Papuan and Australian languages on colexification and semantic mapping (eg François 2013; Schapper, San Roque & Hendery 2016).
  3. Further developing  semantic mapping, visualisation of change, and the cultural and historical background of such lexical change.
  4. Focussing on a word tabu and the semantic field of restriction; diffusion of relevant words across linguistic boundaries; changes in meanings; and the reasons behind the diffusion and changes. For instance the types of marriage, and behavioural correlates such as avoidance (Merlan 1997), or teasing/joking.
  5. Charting methods for gathering data from dictionaries and ethnographies for analysis, and the lessons for documentation of lexico-semantic aspects of languages, especially relationship and spiritual  vocabulary.

The term tabu and related forms are found in Oceanic Austronesian, but also diffused into Australia (N. Queensland) perhaps 2000 years ago from Vanuatu  (McConvell 2016), and may have arisen from a Papuan source. Other terms with similar meaning are used elsewhere in Austronesian e.g. pari(si) in the Timor-Alor-Pantar zone of Austronesian-Papuan contact, and Sulawesi. Tabu/tambu displays various semantic changes, for instance into kinship terminology, particularly affinal, but also consanguineal in the Trobriands, the locus of a debate on semantic theory (monosemy vs. extension) from Malinowski on, including Leach (1958) and Lounsbury (1965).  It was adopted by Christian missionaries as a translation for English ‘holy’.



Wednesday 5th July 2017

9.00 am: Welcome; Organisation and Aims of workshop

9.30am: The Tabur-Jabul Link Across The Coral Sea – Patrick McConvell


11.00am: Tapu, taboo and semantic change – Rachel Hendery

11.45am: Tabu in Raga – Marie Duhamel

12.30pm: LUNCH

2.00pm: Awesome forces and warning signs: the semantics of tabu-related words in Vanuatu – Alex François

2.45pm: Eastern Melanesia and Australia: possible prehistoric contact – Paul Geraghty 


4.00pm: Tabu, Tubu, Tumpu: Some Comparative Lexical Considerations – James Fox

4.45pm CLOSE

Thursday 6th July 2017

9.00am:  Taboo’ and gender in Dalabon and Kriol (Top End, Australia) - Maia Ponsonnet

9.45am: Connected places and practices: Ephemeral traces of interaction between Australia, Island Southest Asia and New Guinea during the Holocene – Tim Denham


11.00am: Comments from rapporteur Eva Schultze-Berndt

11.45am: Discussion

1.00pm: CLOSE


Event sponsored by the Centre

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University