• A comparison of landscape categorization in Inuit-Yupik and Dene languages in Alaska

      Holton, Gary (2012-10-26)
      The landscape domain poses a significant challenge for linguistic categorization, since unlike more discrete domains such as zoology and botany, the landscape domain lacks an etic grid on which to base linguistic categories (Turk et al. 2012). Thus, it is not surprising that there is significant cross-linguistic variation in the way landscape terms are ontologized (Burenhult and Levinson 2008). While Alaska itself exhibits great diversity in landforms, a large swath of country extending from the Bering coast to the Canadian border is shared two very different language families: Inuit-Yupik and Dene. Preliminary studies of landscape terminology in these two language families suggest that Dene languages emphasize vertical features and mountain valleys, while Inuit-Yupik languages are less concerned with vertical scale and the notion of valley (Holton 2011). The current paper compares the semantics of landscape terms in Inupiaq, Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Koyukon, four languages which are spoken along the boundary between Inuit-Yupik and Dene. In addition, the structures of Inuit-Yupik and Dene spatial orientation systems are compared.