Polysemy of words expressing human body parts of the four limbs area in Thai language in Vietnam (with reference to Vietnamese)

Author: Thanh Ha Thi Mai (Tay Bac University)
Speaker: Thanh Ha Thi Mai
Topic: Semiotics and semiology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


The nomenclature and polysemiosis of body parts has constituted a central part of linguistics, and of linguistic anthropology. The ramifications of such work make inroads into our understandings of many fields, including language contact, semiotics, and so forth.

This current paper identifies the structures and emerging denotations of expressions of human body parts (HBPs) in Thai language, and ways in which these dimensions reflect polysemy. The study thus applies the following methods: field research methods of linguistics, description, comparison, and collation.

As sources of data, this study surveys Thai rhymes, fairy tales, riddles and riddle songs, rhyming stories, children’s songs and linguistic data of daily speeches in the northwest of Vietnam. The paper uses theories on word meaning and the transformation of word meaning. To aid analysis, this paper applies methods of analyzing meaning components so to construct significative meaning structures of words expressing HBPs in Thai language, thus identifying the semantemes chosen to be the basis for the transformation.

In the polysemy of words expressing HBPs of the four limbs, the polysemy of words expressing the following parts were studied: khèn – tay, cánh tay (arm); mư – tay, bàn tay (hand); khà – đùi (thigh); tìn – chân, bàn chân (leg, foot). Directions of semantic transformation of words expressing HBPs in Thai language are as diversified and of multi-levels as Vietnamese. Furthermore, in Thai language, there occur differences in the four scopes of semantic transformation, as compared with Vietnamese, including “people’s characteristics”, “human activities”, “nomination of things with activities like HBPs’ activities”, and “unit of measurement”.

This study contributes to Linguistic Anthropology by suggesting that the polysemy of words expressing HBPs of the four limb area in Thai language will outline a list of linguistic phenomena which serve as the basis to understand cultural and national features, in the light of perception and categorization of the reality of the Thai minority with reference to Vietnamese.

Keywords: Body parts, polysemy, Thai language, Vietnam