Abstract: Major body part terms are included in basic lexicons of all languages. They also provide an available source domain for target concepts in other domains, such as, emotions, reasoning and knowledge, social interactions and values, grammaticalization, and external domains of objects, plants, landmarks, etc. Cross-linguistic evidence demonstrates a remarkable convergence in body part terms’ transfer and meaning extension, whether manifested as synchronic polysemy or diachronic semantic change. Regularity of semantic change interacts with typological parameters leading to language-specific, but recurring cultural models. For example, several inner body parts can be conceptualized as metaphoric containers for emotions, as ‘heart’ in English, Swahili or Thai, ‘stomach’ in Japanese or Thaayorre, or ‘liver’ in Indonesian or Dogon. ‘Eyes’ in many Indo-European languages are figurative instruments of acquiring knowledge, but ‘ears’ provide an alternative model, as in Sanskrit or Australian languages. ‘Blood’, ‘belly’ and ‘navel’ tend to be figuratively associated with kinship relations, ‘hand(s)’ or ‘sweat’ with work, etc. Shared paths of semantic extensions of body part terms are motivated by recurring metaphors, e.g. knowing is seeing/hearing, or kinship relation is body (part) sharing, as well as by metonymies, e.g. face (facial manifestations) for emotions, or hand(s) for possession.
In this talk, I will focus on such observed regularities taking into account two major factors which lie at the heart of the phenomenon, one being embodied cognition, the other – shared culture. While these two factors lead to considerable resemblance among unrelated languages, they encounter the counterbalance of language-specific features resulting from non-shared culture and different language usage practices. In the second part of this talk, I will discuss an initiated research program devoted to the examination of body part terms from a cross-linguistic perspective pointing out a number of problems which this kind of research would have to overcome, as well as its expected contributions to the fields of linguistics and cognitive science.