Chapter published in:The Diachrony of Classification Systems
Edited by William B. McGregor and Søren Wichmann
[Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 342] 2018
► pp. 77–106
Semantic generalization in Ch’orti’ Mayan numeral classifiers
This study examines the process of linguistic change in the classification system of Ch’orti’ Mayan, a language spoken by roughly 12,000 people in southern Guatemala. I trace the origin of the classifier -kojt from its original meaning of “quadruped”, based on the positional root kojt‑ “kneel down”, to all animals in general; then (somewhat unexpectedly) to include certain foods; and most recently to humans. I also describe the impact of ideologically driven decisions by those involved in the Pan-Maya Movement in the Ch’orti’ area relating to the use of -kojt, namely in accelerating its natural sematic broadening to now include all human referents to compensate for the lack of such a classifier in the language. I conclude that this new use of -kojt represents both a case of standard semantic generalization as well as a case of hypercorrection due to revised notions of language ‘correctness’.
Published online: 14 May 2018
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