In Mwotlap, an Oceanic language of Vanuatu, the principal device for referring to space is a paradigm of six directionals. Organized in pairs, these morphemes define three ways to draw a vector in space: by reference to a salient participant (hither-thither); by reference to an asymmetry perceptible within the immediate, local setting (up-down; in-out); or by reference to a fixed, absolute system of four horizontal quadrants (also lexified as up-down; in-out). These three "coordinate sets" can be shown to obey a strict hierarchy, determining which one the speaker should activate in a given situation. After providing an overview of this directional system, this paper investigates in more detail the mechanics of geocentric reference in Mwotlap, whereby a land/sea axis (inout) is crossed by a second axis, running from [south]east (up) to [north]west (down). In order to account for this use of the vertical directionals up-down on the horizontal plane, a semantic hypothesis is proposed that is related to the seafaring history of Mwotlap's population.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 407-437
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.