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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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It is beyond doubt that categorisation is a process which is as natural and fundamental for the proper functioning of the human mind as breathing and eating are for the proper functioning of the human body. As a matter of fact, the omnipresence of categorisation in our lives may be one of the reasons why we normally take it for granted, rarely reflecting upon its nature. Since one of the basic functions of the phenomenon in question is to introduce order into the conceptualisations of our environment, it necessarily involves a considerable degree of simplification. What this means is that the categories we employ to describe the world around us (or within us) do not mirror reality. It does not mean, however, that they are totally arbitrary. Instead, they reflect our understanding of the world, being filtered through our finite mind.

Evidently, the classical view of categorisation, which had dominated linguistic thought since the times of Aristotle to the latter half of the twentieth century, has proven unable to capture the intricacies of the problem. The view of categories as containers with clear-cut boundaries, defined by necessary and sufficient conditions, worked well in some cases, yet ignored a large portion of linguistic data. The breakthrough came with Second Generation Cognitive Science (Sinha 2007:1266). Research carried out by American anthropologists and psychologists609 resulted in the formulation of the prototype theory, adopted by cognitive linguists and adapted to fit their theories, of which a perfect example is...

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