Words for Parts of the Body
This chapter addresses the question of whether there are "basic" body parts that are recognized across cultures, in how people talk about the body. Or to put it another way, how do people from different communities come to conceptualize the body in the languages they speak? It focuses on a particular semantic component: the reference of body part terms; that is, what the exact extension of body part terms is across languages; how similar or different are the categorization systems? This is but one component of this semantic domain. According to Kemmerer and Tranel, additional components include information about the spatial organization of body parts, their characteristic functions, and their typical cultural associations. Although there are differences between languages in characteristic functions or cultural associations of body parts, many have predicted universals in body part categorization. The chapter argues that there is considerably more variation in the naming of body parts than isacknowledged, but that this variation is constrained.