This paper presents an ethnolinguistic analysis of how the space between the head and the body is construed in Scandinavian semantic systems vis-a-vis the semantic system of English. With an extensive case study of neck-related meanings in Danish, and with cross-Scandinavian reference, it is demonstrated that Scandinavian and English systems differ significantly in some aspects of the way in which the construe the human body with words. The study ventures an innovative combination of methods, pairing the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach to linguistic and conceptual analysis with empirical evidence from the Evolution of Semantic Systems (EoSS) project. This combination of empirical and interpretative tools helps to integrate evidence from semantics and semiotics, pinning out in great detail the intricacies of the meanings of particular body words. The paper concludes that body words in closely related languages can differ substantially in their semantics. In related languages, where shared lexical form does not always mean shared semantics, ethnolinguistic studies in semantic change and shifts in polysemy patterns can help to reveal and explain the roots of semantic diversity.
Language Sciences, 2015, Vol 49, Issue May, p. 51-66