Physical properties and culture-specific factors as principles of semantic categorisation of the Gújjolaay Eegimaa noun class system

Serge Sagna, 1
  • 1 University of Manchester


This paper investigates the semantic bases of class membership in the noun class system of Gújjolaay Eegimaa (Eegimaa henceforth), a Niger-Congo and Atlantic language of the BAK group spoken in Southern Senegal. The question of whether semantic principles underlie the overt classification of nouns in Niger-Congo languages is a controversial one. There is a common perception of Niger-Congo noun class systems as being mainly semantically arbitrary. The goal of the present paper is to show that physical properties and culture-specific factors are central principles of semantic categorisation in the Eegimaa noun class system. I argue that the Eegimaa overt grammatical classification of nouns into classes is a semantic categorisation system whereby categories are structured according to prototypicality, family resemblance, metaphorical and metonymic extensions and chaining processes, as argued within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics. I show that the categorisation of entities in the Eegimaa nominal classification system productively makes use of physical properties such as shape as well as using culture-specific, less productive parameters for the semantic categorisation of entities denoted by nouns. The analysis proposed here also shows that the cases of multiple morphosyntactic classifications of nouns reflect multiple conceptual categorisation strategies. A detailed examination of the formal and semantic instances of multiple classification reveals the existence of conceptual correlations between the physical properties and the culture-specific semantic parameters of categorisation used in the Eegimaa noun class system.

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Cognitive Linguistics presents a forum for linguistic research of all kinds on the interaction between language and cognition. The journal focuses on language as an instrument for organizing, processing and conveying information. It is devoted to high-quality research on topics such as the structural characteristics of natural language categorization and the functional principles of linguistic organization.