When what and where fall into place: the ontological status of place terms in Lokono
09 / 2011 - 08 / 2015
The proposed research focuses on landscape terms and toponyms in Lokono, a moribund Arawakan language of the Guianas, with the aim of investigating their ontological status vis-à-vis other nouns in the language. Landau and Jackendoff (1993) postulate a profound distinction between the what (objects) and where (location) in language and cognition. Landscape terms, however, combine features of both objects (material, perceptually bounded) and locations (immobile, massive). Consequently, cross-linguistically we expect languages to treat them either as objects or locations. Landscape-as-object pattern has been documented for the Austronesian language Marquesan (Cablitz 2008). In Lokono, in contrast, landscape terms and toponyms form one class, representing the generic (physical) and specific (abstract) realizations of place terms respectively, distinguished grammatically from object nouns. This study aims to determine the precise denotation and analyze the formation and use of place terms and their status as a (possibly structured) domain in the context of Lokono grammar and culture. Such evidence will ultimately allow us to pinpoint the ontological status of the Lokono idea of where and its parameters, and to contrast it with e.g. the Marquesan system, broadening our understanding of the universal categories and linguistic variation that characterize the concept.