Keynote 1 | Thursday 1 July @ 17:30 CEST

Ameka jeg

The Semantics of Understanding: The “meaning” of “meaning” in African languages

Felix K. Ameka, Leiden University Center for Linguistics

Thursday 1 July @ 17:30 CEST

Whorf (1956) asserts that “the essence of linguistics is the quest for meaning”. And the question of “the meaning of meaning” has preoccupied philosophers of language and linguists for a long time (Ogden & Richards 1949, Leech 1974 etc.). One can hardly find an introductory textbook on linguistics and semantics that does not discuss the issue of the “meaning of meaning”. Unfortunately, this preoccupation is due to the use of the English language as metalanguage where the verb ‘mean’ refers to a myriad of things (cf. Wierzbicka 2014, Haugh 2016, Levisen 2019). In this talk, I suggest that we can advance the quest for meaning in the scientific study of languages if we incorporate the first order understandings of meaning from other languages. For instance, the Romance conceptualisation of meaning as what the language users want to say (vouloir dire) by using linguistic signs reinforces the idea of thinking of the representation of the meaning of a sign as a paraphrase. In addition,  I want to ask the question: what if we were to look for “the meaning of meaning” in African languages, what would we find, and what kind of semantics would we be doing then (Ameka & Terkourafi 2019)? I argue that if we explore the everyday expressions for meaning-making in these languages we would have to go along with Charles Fillmore (1985) and argue that “the meaning of meaning” has to do with understanding—U-Semantics (as opposed to T-Semantics). I demonstrate this by analysing everyday talk about meaning in some Kwa languages. I further apply a “Semantics of Understanding” perspective in describing the meaning of culturally important words in a number of African languages, e.g. words for artefacts in the Head-loading frame e.g. headpad; Africa specific implements in the food preparation frame, and everyday physical activity verbs such as those for removing the outer covering of various entities. I also explore a U-Semantics account of cyclic time words in languages such as Basa and Ewe where the same word is used to talk about yesterday and tomorrow; or the same word for the day before yesterday and the day after tomorrow (Ameka 2020, Schaefer and Egbokhare 2021, Ngue Um 2019). I conclude by inviting Africanist researchers to go beyond indicating that certain linguistic signs exist (Samarin 1967: 208),or the translation equivalents of these words (Hellwig 2015, Dimmendaal 20215) and expose the content of these words in a system of explications (Apresjan 2000).

Keynote 2 | Friday 2 July @ 16:00 CEST


The functional load of stress in Highland East Cushitic

Yvonne Treis, LLACAN-CNRS

Friday 2 July @ 16:00 CEST

It is generally agreed that Cushitic languages have grammatically determined tonal accent or stress. However, in the available grammars of individual languages, the functional load of accent or stress is often only superficially described and does at times not go beyond the presentation of some illustrative minimal pairs. This paper sets out to describe the stress system of Kambaata, a Highland East Cushitic language of Ethiopia, in more detail. Every Kambaata word has one prominent syllable. Stress has (almost) no lexical importance (exception: stress on interjections and ideophones). Instead, the realisation of stress on nouns, verbs and adjectives is determined by the inflectional categories and values for which a word is marked. The stems of nouns, verbs and adjectives are unspecified for stress, but stress is imposed by inflectional morphemes. All (but one) inflectional morphemes in Kambaata have a segmental as well as a suprasegmental realisation. I propose a typology of Kambaata inflectional morphemes depending on where they realise stress in a word. After a presentation of the general features of the Kambaata stress system, I present two case studies: (i) I demonstrate the importance of stress for case marking and (ii) I discuss relativisation in the imperfective and perfective aspect, which is marked by a stress-only morpheme. In the final part of my talk, I view the Kambaata system from a wider Highland East Cushitic perspective and point out commonalities and differences with related languages such as Hadiyya and Sidaama