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A Study of «Attributive Ethnonyms» in the History of English with Special Reference to «Foodsemy»


Marcin Kudła

The author studies ethnic stereotypes in the history of English from the perspective of Cognitive Linguistics. He views an ethnic stereotype as an idealised cognitive model (ICM) which consists of a cluster of metonymic submodels (such as BODY, CUISINE, NAME, etc.). Each submodel may trigger the formation of an attributive ethnonym, which ascribes some attribute to the target group. While such terms are mostly derogatory, context plays a crucial role in their perception. The analysis proper focuses on foodsemic ethnonyms (most of which activate the submodel of CUISINE). Out of 168 items, above 50% follow the «FOODSTUFF FOR ETHNIC GROUP» or «FOODSTUFF EATER FOR ETHNIC GROUP» metonymy. Most examples come from Am.E., with Mexicans being the most frequently described target group.
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The existing lexicographic sources devoted to the Old English period do not mention any foodsemic ethnonyms. There is a record, however, of what may be called a ‘semi-ethnonym’, or – more specifically (though no less awkwardly) – ‘religio-ethnonym’ in Old Norse, a sister language of Old English. The term in question is hrossæta ‘horse-eater’ (NION). Originally it described pagan Germanic tribes, among whom the consumption of horsemeat was primarily of religious significance, being part of rituals devoted to fertility (see DuBois 2006:76). In the ethnic context the term was used by the tenth-century Christian king of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, as a contemptuous label for the then pagan Swedes (Keysler 1868:24). Consequently, it may be classified as an instance of the metonymy.404 It remains speculative whether any Anglo-Saxons knew this term and whether its O.E. equivalent, for instance *horsetere (cf. ASD) was ever in use. Still, it is beyond doubt that they knew the custom since they had worshipped the same gods as Scandinavians before their conversion to Christianity. Also, explicit reference to the practice of eating horsemeat can be found in Latin texts describing synods held in England in the eight century (see Miller 1991:2087). Middle English

The Middle English period appears to be almost as lacking in foodsemic ethnonyms as the previous period. Primary sources mention two terms, neither of which is a clear case, though for different reasons. The former is actually...

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