Specificity at the basic level in event taxonomies: The case of Maniq verbs of ingestion


Previous research on basic-level object categories shows there is cross-cultural variation in basic-level concepts, arguing against the idea that the basic level reflects an objective reality. In this paper, I extend the investigation to the domain of events. More specifically, I present a case study of verbs of ingestion in Maniq illustrating a highly specific categorization of ingestion events at the basic level. A detailed analysis of these verbs reveals they tap into culturally salient notions. Yet, cultural salience alone cannot explain specificity of basic-level verbs, since ingestion is a domain of universal human experience. Further analysis reveals, however, that another key factor is the language itself. Maniq’s preference for encoding specific meaning in basic-level verbs is not a peculiarity of one domain, but a recurrent characteristic of its verb lexicon, pointing to the significant role of the language system in the structure of event concepts.

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