Sunday, November 4, 2018

Detail #385: Lexically Determined Chirality of Locations

Chirality refers to 'handedness'. Normally, left and right are relative terms, but we find, even in English, a pair of terms that in some way are defined as a variation of "left" and "right", but in some sense these are determined by reference to a type of location.

This type of location is 'a boat', and the terms, of course, are port and starbord. Several other languages have a similar pair, e.g. Swedish babord and styrbord. These are helpful because on a ship, you may need unambiguous terms referring to directions with regards neither to the current orientation of the speaker, or the listener, or to the cardinal directions.

Now, what if in some types of locations, a culture had a fixed left and right, with regards to some specific type of geographical feature, and the terms for left and right in those contexts, if not further specified (e.g. by possessive pronouns) are taken to be in relation to the geographical feature.

An example would be valleys - a valley might have its left be the left side as seen when looking downstream a river in the valley. If the valley lacks a river, some other means would be necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Uscaniv bases its vernacular directions on the three main branches of the thale (giant tree) they live in. Vetri is ~5° off north, ześi is roughly southwest, and mazi is roughly southeast. Later, more directions were derived: ilvetri is south (anti-north), ilześi is northeast (anti-southwest) and ilmazi is northwest (anti-southeast). East and west are somewhat apart from these directions as they are locatives referencing the direction of the sun: alipti (at start) and stateti (at end)… sunrise is alip tinena (start of the day) and sundown is state tinena (end of the day). With the invention of the compass, magnetic directions were indicated using the adjective averui "well oriented".