Back to listing

Seminar: Diachronic Lexical Semantic Mapping in the Asia-Pacific -Australia interaction zone, 12 April

Australian National University

Date: 29 March 2019

Seminar: Diachronic Lexical Semantic Mapping in the Asia-Pacific -Australia interaction zone

Speakers: Patrick McConvell (Australian National University/Western Sydney University)  and Rachel Hendery (Western Sydney University)

When: Friday 12 April 2019, 3.30pm-5pm

Where: BPB E4.44 (Baldessin Seminar room, Level 4), Baldessin Building, ANU


The research project Waves of Words is investigating linguistic diffusion from the Asia-Pacific into Australia in the last 3000 years, in a cross-disciplinary context including anthropology and archaeology. The most prolific and well-known pulse of lexical diffusion has been that from Austronesian languages of Sulawesi into Arnhem Land, but there have been others that deserve our attention, including from the Pacific into North Queensland. One of our themes has been the lexical items tabu and variants, whose senses usually include ‘forbidden’, but have a wide range of other senses across the Austronesian and ’Australian languages where it is found. Here we adopt the idea of Alex François (2018) of ‘colexification’ as applied to the tabu words in Vanuatu, and assess his method of extending it to include diachronic change in meaning.

We assess the following issues and how they can be incorporated in a visualisation of the history of words related to tabu:

  1. The distinction between inheritance and spread with semantic change (eg McConvell 1997) and the examples of loanword diffusion in pulses from the Asia-Pacific and within Australia
  2. The sound changes involved in the lexemes which can assist in determining the direction and chronology of the movement of the words (eg by ‘archaelinguistic stratigraphy’ (McConvell & Smith 2003)
  3. The geographical position of the languages (complicated by changes in position over time)


François, Alexandre. 2018. Lexical Travel Maps :a Spatial View of Semantic Change. Presentation at Workshop Le DiaSema. University of Liège. 27-28 June 2018.

François, Alex .Forthcoming. Awesome forces and warning signs: the semantics of tabu-related words in Vanuatu.

McConvell, Patrick.1997. The Semantic Shift between "Fish" and "Meat" and the prehistory of Pama-Nyungan.  in M.Walsh and D.Tryon eds. Boundary Rider: Essays in Honour of G.N.O’Grady. pp.303-325.Canberra; Pacific Linguistics

McConvell, Patrick. Forthcoming.Tabu across the sea to Australia. In P. McConvell & R. Hendery (eds), Diffusion & change in lexical semantics: restriction, avoidance and ‘tabu’. Special issue of Oceania.

McConvell, Patrick & Mike Smith.2003.‘Millers and mullers: the archaeolinguistic stratigraphy of seed-grinding in Central Australia’ In H.Andersen ed. Language contacts in prehistory: studies in stratigraphy. pp.177-200. Amsterdam: Benjamins

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