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Siberian-American cognitive and cultural interface through eco-ethnic lexicon

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The focus of this paper is a possible Siberian link with the Na-Dene Languages, based on cognitive lexical semantics. Dene-Yeniseian is a proposed language family consisting of the Yeniseian languages of Central Siberia and the Na-Dene languages of North-Western North America (Campbell 2011; Trombetti 1923; Vajda 2010, 2011, 2018). The paper connects semantic universals, Ket and Dene folklore, and also comparative historical linguistic research. In analyzing a group of cognates, the paper’s aim is to discuss the cultural, cognitive and pragmatic reasons that enabled these cognates to survive for several thousand years. Our main point is that factors such as the relative importance of linguistic signs in a language community, lingual conservatism of semantic universals and the distinctiveness of its referents, probable frequency with which these words were used, and their cultural symbolism in relatively similar environments significantly contributed to their survival in ethnic groups belonging to the proposed language family. Our cross-disciplinary study helps us identify the essential place of eco-ethnic material in interpreting cross-continental similarities and emphasizes the integrative role of culture. It will be argued that the eco-ethnic lexicon reflected by the Dene-Yeniseian cognates reveals several thousand years of diachronic cognitive processes.

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Keywords: Dene-Yeniseian cognates; cognitive linguistics; cross-disciplinary and intercultural studies; encyclopedic; lexical semantics

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 31, 2019

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