Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Garry W. Davis

Committee Members

Edith A. Moravcsik, Nicholas Fleisher, Sandra L. Pucci, Fred Eckman


Body Parts, Cross-Linguistic, Historical Linguistics, Human Limbs, Metonymy, Typology


This dissertation is a cross-linguistic lexical study of metonymic change in human limb nomenclature. The data analyzed for this study make up both synchronic and diachronic databases. The synchronic data come from a sample of 153 non-Indo-European languages from 66 language families and are balanced for genetic and areal influence. The diachronic data are made up of a large collection of Indo-European etymologies. By comparing the metonymic patterns found in the Indo-European historical data with the synchronic cross-linguistic data, this dissertation explores to what extent the patterns of change found in Indo-European are cross-linguistic tendencies.

In addition to showing how etymological data from one language family can help identify cross-linguistic tendencies, this dissertation also supports the claim that semantic change is regular, predictable and unidirectional. This serves as a framework for identifying cross-linguistic lexical tendencies. Along with its contributions to the theoretical discussion of regularity in lexical change, this dissertation proposes three universal tendencies and a substantial amount of lexical data that is useful for future cross-linguistic studies.

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