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Semantic variation in the cutting and breaking domain has been shown to be constrained across languages in a previous typological study, but it was unclear whether Japanese was an outlier in this domain. Here we revisit cutting and breaking in the Japonic language area by collecting new naming data for 40 videoclips depicting cutting and breaking events in Standard Japanese, the highly divergent Tohoku dialects, as well as four related Ryukyuan languages (Amami, Okinawa, Miyako and Yaeyama). We find that the Japonic languages recapitulate the same semantic dimensions attested in the previous typological study, confirming that semantic variation in the domain of cutting and breaking is indeed cross-linguistically constrained. We then compare our new Japonic data to previously collected Germanic data and find that, in general, related languages resemble each other more than unrelated languages, and that the Japonic languages resemble each other more than the Germanic languages do. Nevertheless, English resembles all of the Japonic languages more than it resembles Swedish. Together, these findings show that the rate and extent of semantic change can differ between language families, indicating the existence of lineage-specific developments on top of universal cross-linguistic constraints.

Original publication




Journal article


Linguistic Typology

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