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A. Richard Diebold Center for Indo-European Language and Culture

Indo-European Linguistics

Semantic Fields

The notion of "semantic fields," or "semantic categories," is a popular topic in ontological thought, especially at the amateur level: after all, everyone categorizes the world in some way, and it seems "so easy and natural." However, formally defining a complete and consistent scheme of semantic fields and subcategories has proven exceedingly difficult, and it is safe to say that no one has ever fully satisfied these twin demands -- or not, at least, as judged by anyone else. Hence, all semantic category schemes are deficient. Rather than inventing yet another deficient scheme, we selected for our use one that has been published and used by others, with only minor technical modifications.

Among other work concerned with Indo-European (IE) semantics, Carl Darling Buck's list of semantic fields (cf. A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, 1949) has seen much use. We adopt and adapt Buck's fields for our own semantic category scheme, and we present that scheme here. Slightly simplifying Buck, we employ a strictly two-level organization; most semantic subcategories will have lexical entries drawn from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) etyma listed by Julius Pokorny in his monumental work Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (2 vols, 1959-69). Because Buck's publication preceded Pokorny's by a decade or more, Buck was not able to categorize Pokorny's etyma; and although Buck did categorize at least some entries found in earlier volumes authored jointly by Walde & Pokorny (Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der indogermanischen Sprachen, 3 vols, 1926-30), Buck took pains to categorize later Indo-European derivatives according to their evolved meanings, which in many cases differ from the [reconstructed] meanings of their Proto-Indo-European ancestral roots.

We attempt to categorize most if not all of Pokorny's etyma -- possibly not all, because not all PIE etyma have an obvious categorization according to Buck's scheme (especially difficult are, e.g., particles and prepositions). Analogs of Buck's 22 top-level categories, each linked to a description of its subcategories, are listed below and alphabetically in the navigation bar to the left.

N.B. These pages are under construction; as time goes on corrections may be made, and more links from the semantic subcategories to lexical entries in them, drawn from Pokorny's PIE etyma with or without derived ("reflex") words in later IE languages, may be added.
  1. Physical World
  2. Mankind
  3. Animals
  4. Body Parts & Functions
  5. Food & Drink
  6. Clothing & Adornment
  7. Dwellings & Furniture
  8. Agriculture & Vegetation
  9. Physical Acts & Materials
  10. Motion & Transportation
  11. Possession & Trade
  12. Spatial Relations
  13. Quantity & Number
  14. Time
  15. Sense Perception
  16. Emotion
  17. Mind & Thought
  18. Language & Music
  19. Social Relations
  20. Warfare & Hunting
  21. Law & Judgment
  22. Religion & Beliefs