Chapter 114: 'Body hair' and 'feather'

Feature information for this chapter can be found in feature 114.

1. Feature description

This feature considers the formal identity or differentiation between the terms referring to (body) hair and feather. Some languages differentiate between the hair of the head and body hair, as e.g. Principense pene ‘body hair’ vs. kabelu ‘hair of the head’. In such cases, contributors were asked to base their judgements on the expression for body hair. Thus, since pene also refers to ‘feather’, Principense was classified as an identity language.

Almost two thirds of the APiCS languages have separate expressions for ‘(body) hair’ and ‘feather’. The rest has a polysemous expression meaning ‘(body) hair’ or ‘feather’ (referred to as ‘hair/feather’ identity in the following). When such polysemous terms are used, disambiguation depends on the context, but a number of languages with ‘hair/feather’ identity can also resort to additional words or phrases with the particularized meanings ‘(body) hair’ or ‘feather’.

For the purposes of this feature, we assume that all the expressions provided by the contributors are conventional rather than ad hoc creations for disambiguation. In addition, no difference is made between words, compounds, or phrases. This means that the Ternate Chabacano phrase pilyého del páhro (lit. ‘hide of bird’) is considered equivalent to the Sranan compound fowru-wiwiri (lit. ‘bird hair’) or the Norf’k monomorphemic feather. Also, words/phrases referring to (body) hair and feather are counted as separate expressions even if there is formal overlap between them, as in e.g. Kinubi su-rás ‘hair’ (lit. ‘hair head’) and su-téri ‘feather’ (lit. ‘hair bird’). Further, the fact that a language may have several synonyms referring to ‘(body) hair’ or ‘feather’ is irrelevant for this feature. For example, in addition to the forms just cited, Kinubi has the synonyms su for ‘hair’ and ris for ‘feather’. Nevertheless, since there is no semantic overlap between the expressions for ‘hair’ and ‘feather’, Kinubi is classified as a differentiating language.

2. The values

The APiCS languages show four patterns with regard to the identity or differentiation of ‘(body) hair’ and ‘feather’:

Identity and differentiation5

Value 1. ‘(Body) hair’-‘feather’ differentiation means that there is one word that refers to ‘(body) hair’ and another word that refers to ‘feather’. As already mentioned, this includes cases of formal overlap as evidenced by Kinubi su-rás ‘hair’ and su-téri ‘feather’. Differentiation is the most frequent value in the APiCS sample, 43 languages (62%) relying on this strategy. 37 of these are lexified by European languages, two are mixed languages partially lexified by European languages (Gurindji Kriol by English, Michif by French), and the other four are the African contact languages Fanakalo, Kikongo-Kituba, Kinubi, and Mixed Ma’a/Mbugu. Examples are:

(1) Vincentian Creole (Prescod 2013)

hei ‘hair’ feda ‘feather’

(2) Fa d’Ambô (Post 2013)

abelu ‘hair’ péna ‘feather’

(3) Tayo (Ehrhart & Revis 2013)

ʃeve ‘body hair’ plim ‘feather’

(4) Cavite Chabacano (Sippola 2013a)

pelo ‘hair’ pluma ‘feather’

(5) Berbice Dutch (Kouwenberg 2013a)

hari ‘hair’ plim ‘feather’

(6) Mixed Ma’a/Mbugu (Mous 2013)

ahlú ‘hair’ lu-zoyá ‘feather’

Value 2. In the identity constellation, there is a general expression for ‘(body) hair/feather’ but there is no term that denotes only ‘(body) hair’ or only ‘feather’. Seven languages (10%) show ‘hair/feather’ identity without separate words for ‘(body) hair’ or ‘feather’ – Ambon Malay (bulu), Belizean Creole (), Juba Arabic (suf), Lingala (súki), Principense (pene), Saramaccan (puuma), and Singapore Bazaar Malay (bulu).

Value 3 subsumes cases of semantic overlap. There are two different words, one of which denotes ‘(body) hair/feather’ and the other one denotes only ‘(body) hair’ or only ‘feather’. Of the 14 languages (20%) in APiCS showing overlap, five are lexified by French (the creoles of Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Reunion and the Seychelles), three by English (Bahamian Creole, Sranan, Trinidad English Creole), two by Spanish (Ternate and Zamboanga Chabacano), one by Portuguese (Santome) and the other three by non-European languages (Chinuk Wawa, Pidgin Hawaiian, Sri Lankan Malay).

(7) Martinican Creole (Colot & Ludwig 2013b)

chivé ‘hair/feather’ pwel ‘feather’

(8) Trinidad English Creole (Mühleisen 2013)

feaders ‘body hair/feather’ hair ‘hair’

(9) Zamboanga Chabacano (Steinkrüger 2013)

pélo ‘hair/feather’ pélo de páharo ‘feather’

(10) Santome (Hagemeijer 2013)

pena ‘body hair/feather’ kabelu ‘hair’

(11) Chinuk Wawa (Grant 2013)

típsu ‘hair/feather’ yáksu ‘hair’

Value 4. In identity and differentiation there are at least three words; one denotes ‘(body) hair’, one denotes ‘feather’, and the third denotes ‘hair/feather’. This pattern is found in only 5 languages (7%) of the APiCS sample. Three of these are English-lexified (Early Sranan, Nengee, Tok Pisin), one is Portuguese-lexified (Angolar), and Sango is lexified by Ngbandi, a northern Volta-Congo language:

(12) Tok Pisin (Smith & Siegel 2013)

gras ‘hair/feather’ gras bilong bodi ‘body hair’ gras bilong pisin ‘feather’

(13) Angolar (Maurer 2013a)

pena ‘hair/feather’ pena ôngê ‘body hair’ pena situ ‘feather’

(14) Sango (Samarin 2013)

kwa ‘hair/feather’ kwa (ti) li ‘hair’ kwa (ti) ndeke ‘feather’

3. Discussion

The APiCS languages can be classified into two broad categories: 26 languages have a ‘hair/feather’ identity expression (values 2-4) and 43 do not (value 1). ‘Hair’-‘feather’ is a cross-linguistically common semantic association, with no areal “hotspot” and found in 35% of Urban’s (2012: 451) convenience sample of 148 languages.

It is significant, however, that ‘hair/feather’ identity is not found in the Germanic and Romance lexifiers of the languages in APiCS. Of the 56 APiCS languages with a European lexifier considered here, only one third (18) have an identity expression (values 2-4), and only three (Belizean Creole, Principense, and Saramaccan) rely exclusively on ‘hair/feather’ identity (value 2). The majority of these languages, however, categorically differentiate between ‘(body) hair’ and ‘feather’. The reason for this may be that the European lexifiers also have different words for ‘(body) hair’ and ‘feather’ and that the contact languages tended to inherit this distinction with the lexicon, even if the substrates had ‘hair/feather’ identity.

On the other hand, the APiCS languages with a non-European lexifier have a somewhat stronger tendency to rely on identity expressions (10 of 15 languages), for the most part mirroring ‘hair/feather’ identity in the lexifiers. Compare, for instance, Ambon Malay, Singapore Bazaar Malay, and Sri Lankan Malay, which all have identity words derived from Malay bulu ‘hair/feather’.

All ‘hair/feather’ identity words recorded in APiCS are monomorphemic and the following observations can be made regarding their etyma: APiCS contact languages that draw the bulk of their lexicon from English show the highest variation, which may be partially due to the high number of these languages in our sample. They derive their ‘hair/feather’ identity words from weed (Early Sranan, Nengee, Sranan) or grass (Tok Pisin), from feather (Bahamian Creole, Trinidad English Creole) or the Portuguese pluma ‘feather’ (Saramaccan), or from hair (Belizean Creole).

Three French-lexified APiCS languages derive their ‘hair/feather’ word from plume ‘feather’ (the creoles of Haiti, Reunion, and the Seychelles) and two derive it from cheveu ‘head hair’ (the creoles of Guadeloupean and Martinique).

The etymon of the ‘hair/feather’ word in three Portuguese-lexified APiCS languages is pena ‘feather’, while for two Spanish-lexified creoles it is pelo ‘hair’.

The majority of the non-European lexifiers have a ‘hair/feather’ word, and this appears to have been adopted by the respective contact languages, e.g. Ambon Malay, Singapore Bazaar Malay, and Sri Lankan Malay (< Malay bulu ‘(body) hair/feather’) or Pidgin Hawaiian (< Hawaiian hulu ‘body hair/feather’).