Volume 91 1982 > Volume 91, No. 2 > Growth and development of folk botanical life-forms in Polynesian languages, by C. H. Brown, p 213-244
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Folk botanical life-form terms designate the most inclusive, comprehensive classes of plants regularly found in folk botanical taxonomies. An earlier survey of 105 globally distributed languages showed that five life-forms, “tree”, “grerb” (small herbaceous plant), “grass”, “vine,” and “bush,” are added to languages in a highly regular order (Brown 1977). In addition, subsequent reconstruction of botanical life-form systems of proto-stages in the development of the Mayan language family (Mesoamerica) has been shown to conform with this order (Brown 1979a).

The present study 1 similarly undertakes to reconstruct botanical life-form systems of proto-stages of the Polynesian language group. Again, proto-language reconstruction provides evidence consistent with the botanical life-form encoding sequence. 2 In addition, there are a number of striking parallels between the Mayan and Polynesian cases. For example, in both instances reconstruction shows that botanical life-form growth has occurred relatively late in respective language histories. Of particular importance from a language development perspective are parallels in the ways in which languages of both groups have drawn on existing vocabulary to create terms for botanical life-form classes. These similarities are indicative of universal tendencies in the growth and development of folk botanical life-forms.


Figure 1 is a revision of the lexical encoding sequence for folk botanical life-forms based on recent research which has substantially increased the number of language cases investigated in detail for folk botanical classification (Brown 1984). The critical features associated with the five botanical life-form classes of the encoding sequence are as follows:

“tree” Large plant (relative to the plant inventory of a particular - 214 environment) whose parts are chiefly ligneous (woody).

“grerb” Small plant (relative to the plant inventory of a particular environment) whose parts are chiefly herbaceous (green, leafy, non-woody).

“bush” Plant of intermediate size (relative to “tree” and “grerb”) usually bushy in appearance.

“grass” Herbaceous plant with narrow, often bladelike or spear-shaped leaves.

“vine” Plant exhibiting a creeping or twining or climbing stem habit.

Folk botanical life-form encoding sequence (Brown 1979a)

The revised encoding sequence of Figure 1 represents a series of stages in the growth of folk botanical life-form vocabularies. Stage 1 languages have no botanical life-forms. At Stage 2 “tree” or “large woody plant” is encoded. “Tree” in early stage languages is often considerably broader in actual plant membership than “tree” in later stage languages. It frequently includes ligneous bushes and shrubs, and sometimes even woody vines, in addition to trees. At Stage 3 either “grerb” or “grass” is encoded. If “grerb” is encoded at Stage 3, “vine,” “grass,” and “bush” will be added from Stage 4 to Stage 6, although in no particular order. If “grass” is added at Stage 3, “grerb,” “vine,” and “bush” will be added from Stage 4 to Stage 6, but also in no particular order. When “grerb” is encoded first, it typically encompasses small herbaceous plants including grasses, i.e. most plants not included in “tree”. When languages have encoded both “grerb” and “grass,” “grerb” usually includes only nongrass herbaceous plants. “Grass,” “vine,” and “bush” categories are often composed of plants previously included in “grerb” and “tree.” Thus, the lexical encoding of “bush,” for example, involves pulling - 215 bushes and shrubs from the range of “grerb” or “tree,” or from the ranges of both, as the case may be.

The five life-forms of the encoding sequence are not, of course, the only general plant categories found in systems of folk botanical classification. However, they are usually the only general plant classes of these systems whose membership is based on the form of the whole plant or, in other words, on gross morphology. Membership in other general categories is almost always based on criteria other than gross morphology. These include function or use (e.g., edible vs. nonedible; medicinal vs. nonmedicinal), seasonal habits (e.g., perennial vs. annual), life-stage (e.g., young vs. mature), relationship to humans (e.g., dangerous vs. harmless), environment or location (e.g., desert vs. tropical; terrestrial vs. aquatic), plant part (e.g., fruit vs. flower vs tuber), and so on (cf. Brown 1977:320). Thus categories that enter into the botanical life-form encoding sequence are distinct from other general plant classes in that they are strict morphological categories. I have found no evidence that general plant classes based on criteria other than gross morphology are similarly added to languages in a regular order. Here such categories for convenience are referred to as “functional” plant classes to distinguish them from the morphological classes of the botanical life-form encoding sequence.


Polynesian languages are dispersed over a vast area of the Pacific Ocean (see map, Figure 2). They are descended from Proto-Polynesian which was spoken at the latest roughly 2,500 years ago (Pawley and Green 1971). Polynesian languages and another language, Fijian (see map), form a Central Pacific branch of Eastern Oceanic within the Oceanic division of the Austronesian language family (Pawley and Green 1973). A genetic classification of Polynesian languages adapted from Biggs (1978) is presented in Table 1.

Table 2 lists folk botanical life-form terms for 24 Polynesian languages. These include representatives from all major and minor subgroups of Polynesian. Language sources, mostly dictionaries, are listed in the Appendix. In Table 2 a question mark (?) appearing in a column indicates that the presence or absence of a life-form term in a language is uncertain since pertinent sources are not particularly thorough. A line (—) in a column indicates that a life-form term is lacking. A slash (/) occurs between alternative plant terms when these are found in languages. Terms found in the “grerb” column are followed by one of three symbols which indicate the life-form's referential extension. The symbol (a) indicates that “grerb” encompasses both grasses and - 216 nongrass herbaceous plants (“grass” + “herb”), (b) indicates that “grerb” includes only nongrass herbaceous plants (“herb”), and (c) indicates that the inclusion of grasses is uncertain. Arrows extending from “grass” to “grerb” columns signal that “grass” terms are possibly “grerb” terms in actuality. Terms have been transliterated, when necessary, into standard linguistic symbols. 3

Geographic distribution of Polynesian languages
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Genetic classification of Polynesian languages (adapted from Biggs 1978).

  • Austronesian Family:
  • Oceanic:
  • Eastern Oceanic:
  • Central Pacific:
  • Fijian:
  • Tongic:
  • Niuean
  • Tongan
  • Nuclear Polynesian:
  • Samoic Outlier:
  • East Uvean
  • Samoan
  • East Futunan
  • Rennellesc
  • Pileni
  • Anutan
  • Tikopian
  • Mele-Fila
  • Sikaiana
  • Luangiua
  • Kapingamarangi
  • Nukuoro
  • Eastern Polynesian:
  • Easter Island
  • Central Eastern Polynesian:
  • Marquesic:
  • Mangarevan
  • Marquesan
  • Hawaiian
  • Tahitic:
  • Tahitian
  • Mangaia
  • Rarotongan
  • Tuamotuan
  • Rapa
  • Maori
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Polynesian folk botanical life-form lexicons
LANGUAGES “tree” “grass” “grerb” “vine” “bush”
Niuean akau/la·kau motie/motietie/mosie —— la·kau totolo ——
Tongan ?akau musie/mohuku vao 4 fue ——
East Uvean akau musie/mohuku vao (a) fue ——
Samoan la·?au mutia vao (a) fue ——
East Futunan la·kau mutie 'vao (a) fue ——
Rennellese ga?akau mutie/mouku —— bago ——
Pileni lakau kaua ? fau ?
Anutan ra·kau vao —— —— ——
Tikopian ra·kau mauku ? ? rakau muri
Mele-Fila ra·kau ma·namu/makauku —— va·va· ——
Sikaiana lakau/kau veve ? ? ?
Luangiua la?au veve ? ? ?
Kapingamarangi la·gau —— —— —— ——
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Table 2 (cont.)

LANGUAGES “tree” “grass” “grerb” “vine” “bush”
Nukuoro ? ? ? hua-dolo ?
Easter Island tumu/miro mauku ? ? ?
Mangarevan rakau ? veuveu (a) ? ?
Marquesan tumu/tumu ?akau mutie teita 5/eita (c)/punie (c) teita kavi·vi·/eita kavi·vi· tumu hunahunati
Hawaiian la·?au/kumu la·?au mau?u weuweu (a)/la?ala·?au 6 la·?au hihi la·?au li?ili?i
Tahitian ra·?au/tumu ra·?au matie ? ?ata ?
Mangaia rakau matie ? ? ?
Rarotongan rakau matie/mauku ? ? ?
Tuamotuan ra·kau ? ŋahere (a)/naihere (a)/para (c)/taru (a)/tarutaru (a) kata/ŋata ?
Rapa rakau tine taru 7 (a) ? ?
Maori ra·kau karaihe otaota (c)/taru (a)tarutaru (a) wa·ina ?
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All phonological reconstructions presented in following sections are based on regular Polynesian sound correspondences. For an outline of these and the proto-segments they reflect, consult Biggs (1978).


Polynesian languages, like Mayan languages (Brown 1979a), have acquired folk botanical life-forms through both innovation and borrowing. Cases of borrowing have entailed diffusion within and from outside Polynesian. As in the Mayan case, two types of borrowing have occurred: (1) acquisition of a term previously unknown to the accepting language and (2) acquisition of a new referent for an old term.

Languages often innovate life-forms by converting existing terms into life-form labels. This primarily involves two mechanisms of lexical change: (a) use of metaphor, and (b) expansion of reference. Innovation of life-forms through metaphor entails drawing parallels between plants and other objects which they may somewhat resemble, whereby terms for the latter are used to denote the former. For example, a language might use a term for “snake” to designate “vine.”

Expansion of reference is the most common strategy for developing life-form categories. This involves increasing the designative range of a term, for example, using a name for a certain kind of grass to refer to grasses in general. It is often the case that life-form classes are developed through expansion of reference of terms for “functional” categories. For example, Witkowski, Brown and Chase (1981) assemble cross-language evidence showing that languages regularly develop “tree” life-forms by extending referential application of terms for “wood” to “tree in general.” In several Mayan languages terms for “tying material” (e.g., English ‘rope’ and ‘string’) have been extended to “vine,” probably in part attributable to the fact that vines are used for tying and binding. Similar extensions apparently also have occurred in Polynesian languages. Finally, both Mayan and Polynesian languages have acquired “grerb” life-forms through expansion of the referential ranges of words designating “functional” classes such as “weed,” “underbrush,” and the like, a striking parallel between these language groups to be discussed at length presently.

That “morphological” life-forms are frequently developed through expansion of reference of terms for “functional” categories is probably traced to the fact that the latter classes are large and heterogeneous in membership and, thus, are “natural candidates” for expansion to even larger and more heterogeneous categories. This usually involves simply relaxing definitional constraints pertaining to membership in “functional” classes. For example, a category such as “tying material” may be - 221 defined as consisting of all botanical objects (a) which are long and flexible, and (b) which are used for tying. By relaxing feature (b) a term for “tying material” is extended to a category of all long and flexible botanical objects, most of which are vines, including those used and not used for tying and binding.

A third method of innovation involves production of descriptive labels for life-form classes. “Vine” and “bush,” for example, are sometimes denoted by expressions translating literally “climbing plant” and “little tree” respectively.

Proto-Polynesian “tree”

Most of the “tree” terms listed in Table 2 are cognate, demonstrating regular sound correspondences. These attest to a Proto-Polynesian term for “tree” which reconstructs as *ra?akau (Biggs 1979). In all cases reflexes of the latter stem also designate “wood.” Nukuoro, which totally lacks a “tree” life-form, nevertheless has a reflex of the Proto-Polynesian “tree” term, i.e. la·gau, which designates “wood.” Proto-Polynesian *ra?akau apparently denoted both “tree” and “wood.”8 Thus, the Nukuoro reflex lost the former referent while retaining the latter. In addition, in many daughter languages reflexes of *ra?akau are also used in reference to plants in general including both trees and small herbaceous plants. Such an application may have pertained to the protostem as well.

Not all “tree” labels related to *ra?akau are directly inherited from Proto-Polynesian. For example, East Uvean's “tree” term, akau, is in fact a loan, probably from one of the two Tongic languages, Tongan or Niuean. This is known since the regular reflex of *ra?akau in East Uvean should be la·kau. It is possible, of course, that East Uvean speakers at one time had a regular reflex of *ra?akau which was replaced by the loan, probably in response to known intensive interaction with speakers of Tongan (Pawley 1967:291-92).

In addition, Niuean borrowed one of its own “tree” terms, la·kau, from a non-Tongic language, probably some neighbouring Samoic Outlier language such as East Futunan or Samoan. This is certain since la· kau is a phonologically unexpected Niuean reflex of *ra?akau. (Niuean's alternative “tree” term, akau, is, of course, the expected reflex.) As it happens, there is considerable additional evidence to be presented below indicating that botanical life-forms have diffused extensively in that part of the Pacific occupied by speakers of East Uvean, East Futunan, Samoan, and the Tongic languages (see map, Figure 2). A glance at Table 2, for example, reveals that these languages (with the exception of Niuean) share considerably more life-form terms than other - 222 Polynesian languages, even though they are affiliated with two different major subgroups within Polynesian, i.e. Tongic and Samoic Outlier (Table 1).

Three Eastern Polynesian languages, Tahitian, Hawaiian, and Marquesan, combine reflexes of Proto-Polynesian *ra?akau with reflexes of Proto-Eastern Polynesian *tumu “origin, base, foundation, trunk” to produce compound labels for “tree” (Table 2). In Marquesan, for example, tumu ?akau labels “tree” alone, while lakau (a reflex of *ra?akau designates only “wood.” In addition, ?akau can be optionally deleted from the Marquesan compound term so that tumu on its own can denote “tree.” In Hawaiian and Tahitian the compound forms designate only “tree,” while reflexes of *ra?akau standing alone can be used in reference to both “wood” and “tree.” Distributional considerations suggest that Tahitian, Hawaiian, and Marquesan share virtually identical compound “tree” labels as a result of language contact rather than because of common descent from a parent language (i.e. from Proto-Eastern Polynesian).9

Easter Island also seems to have participated in the possible interchange involving compound labels for “tree.” Its reflex of Proto-Eastern Polynesian *tumu (i.e. tumu) stands on its own as a term for “fruit tree” (Fuentes 1960). It is possible that at some point in the past tumu, meaning “trunk,” combined with Easter Island's reflex of *ra?akau meaning “wood”/“tree”/“plant,” to produce a compound “tree” label. Similar to the Marquesan example described above, the *ra?akau reflex initially could have been optionally deleted from the hypothesised compound term allowing tumu to stand on its own as a “tree” term. The conversion of optional deletion into obligatory deletion may explain the contemporary use of the term.

In addition to tumu “fruit tree” Easter Island has a term for all trees other than fruit trees, i.e. miro (Fuentes 1960). The latter developed through expansion of reference. Miro traces to Proto-Polynesian *milo which designated “the rosewood” (Thespesia populnea) (Biggs 1979), a tree especially valued by Polynesians as material for woodworking. In addition to acquiring the wider meaning “nonfruit tree,” Easter Island miro also denotes “wood.”

Development of “grass”

While several Polynesian languages share related terms for “grass,” the possibility that Proto-Polynesian had a “grass” life-form is not great. Term relatedness for the most part appears to be due to diffusion in early post Proto-Polynesian times.

Several Polynesian languages have “grass” terms reflecting a form - 223 which reconstructs as *mutia (cf. Pawley 1967:285). Forms related to *mutia given in the “grass” column of Table 2 include mutia (Samoan), mutie (Marquesan, Rennellese and East Futunan), motie and motietie (Niuean), musie (Tongan and East Uvean) and mosie (Niuean). In addition, another related form, mutie, occurs in Mangarevan with the more specific referent “dog grass” or “quitch-grass.”10 Since possible reflexes of *mutia meaning “grass” are found in all major Polynesian subgroups (i.e. Tongic, Samoic Outlier and Eastern Polynesian), it is possible that the stem served as a Proto-Polynesian “grass” label. However, there are reasonable grounds for proposing that the form developed as a “grass” term in early post Proto-Polynesian times spreading as a loan word to some languages.

Diffusion within a language grouping is likely when a particular linguistic feature is more or less in continuous geographic distribution while at the same time crosscutting subgroup boundaries. While forms related to *mutia are not strictly in continuous geographic distribution, they are all found in “central” Polynesian languages, that is, relative to the total distribution of the group (see map, Figure 2). When diffusion occurred, the form did not spread to geographically peripheral languages, i.e. Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi of the western extreme, Easter Island of the eastern extreme, and Hawaiian and Maori of the northern and southern extremes respectively. In addition, the form's distribution crosscuts both Samoic Outlier and Eastern Polynesian subgroups, i.e. it occurs in a few languages of these subgroups but not in others, and, thus, behaves like a diffused item. However, given the form's wide geographic distribution, it must have been innovated and diffused relatively soon after the break-up of the parent language.

*Mutia may have originally designated some prominent or ubiquitous species of short grass (perhaps “doggrass” or “quitch grass” as in Mangarevan) and later expanded to grasses in general, perhaps maintaining its original referent as a focus. Today, “lawn grass” apparently constitutes the primary referent of forms related to *mutia found in Tahitian (Ralph White, personal communication), East Futunan, East Uvean, Tongan and Marquesan. In addition, the term mutia designates “lawn grass” in Rotuman (Churchward 1940), a non-Polynesian Eastern Oceanic language which is known to have borrowed heavily from Polynesian. Forms related to *mutia apparently do not occur in any other Oceanic languages indicating that the Rotuman term is a Polynesian loan. Lawns, of course, were not part of an early Polynesian habitat. However, if *mutia designated some species of short grass, its related forms would be natural candidates for extension to lawn grass when this became part of the Polynesian scene in recent times.

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Rarotongan, Mangaia and Tahitian share a “grass” term, matie, suspiciously close in form-meaning to forms related to *mutia (Table 2). The stem is also found in two other Eastern Polynesian languages with allied meanings; Tuamotuan matie “a small-bladed, self-spreading variety of grass,” and Easter Island matie “plant from the graminae family.” While it is tempting to trace this stem directly to *mutia, it is difficult to motivate the change of initial vowel *u to a (Andrew Pawley, personal communication). If there is a relationship, it is probably indicative of a possible wider diffusion of a *mutia related form since matie would be an unexpected reflex of the proto-stem. Another interpretation, preferred here, is that *matie, a form independent of *mutia, developed as a label for some important species of grass in Proto-Eastern Polynesian, expanding in reference to grasses in general in some daughter languages.

Other related “grass” terms of Table 2 are reflexes of a Proto-Polynesian term which Biggs (1979) reconstructs as *m(a,o)huku. These include mauku (Rarotongan and Tikopian), mau?u (Hawaiian), mauku (Easter Island), mouku (Rennellese), and mohuku (East Uvean and Tongan). (The East Uvean stem is an unexpected reflex and, therefore, almost certainly borrowed from Tongan.) Reflexes usually denoting specific plants which are not always grasses are found in most of the remaining Polynesian languages surveyed:

Maori mauku/mouka Aspelenium bulbiferum, Marattia salicina, and Hymenophyllum (ferns); Cordyline pumilio (a plant).
Rapa mou?u A herb; leaves dried in the sun for hat making, root used for food.
Tuamotuan ma·uku/mo·uku A variety of sword-grass, Xiphagrostis floridula; it grows in bunches or clumps in the same place without spreading.
Tahitian mau?u Grass-like rushes, rush.
Marquesan mouku Species of rush.
Mangarevan mouku A species of odoriferous fern.
Nukuoro mougu Plant species: Fleurya ruderalis.
Pileni mouku The bush, forest.
East Futunan mouku Piece of land being cleared for tillage.
Samoan mau?utoga Name given to two weeds: (1) herb (Commelina species), the day flower, (2) herb (Aneilema species).
Niuean mohuku A common fern.

Reflexes of Proto-Polynesian *m(a,o)huku having “grass” as a - 225 referent are found in languages of all major subgroups of Polynesian. Consequently, it is possible that the proto-stem designated grasses in general. On the other hand, a proposal that the form was Proto-Polynesian “grass” is not as well-founded as that for *mutia since most reflexes are not “grass” labels. It is likely that Proto-Polynesian *m(a,o)huku denoted a particularly important grass species or grass-like plant and that some daughter languages, perhaps independently in some instances, extended their reflexes of the stem to grasses in general, a usage which then could have diffused to other Polynesian languages. One of the sources for Easter Island (Fuentes 1960), for example, reports just such an occurrence: “formerly mauku was the name for a specific kind of grass or weed, but later it has been used to refer to any kind of grass.”

Referents of contemporary reflexes indicate that *m(a,o)huku designated certain large herbaceous plants lacking both broadleaf morphology and conspicuous flowers, plants such as ferns, sedges, rushes and so on. For example, Rennellese mouku designates ferns as well as grasses.11 Reflexes of the term which denote ferns are found in widely geographically separated languages associated with each of the major subgroups of the family. In addition to Rennellese, these include Maori, Mangarevan and Niuean (see above listing). Reflexes of *m(a,o)huku in both Hawaiian and Rarotongan seem to refer primarily to large grass-like plants such as rushes, sedges, and reeds: Hawaiian mau?u “grasses, sedges, rushes, herbs strand of pandanus plaiting, as in hat making” (Pukui and Elbert 1971), Rarotongan mauku “a common herbage, grass” and “straw, rushes, reeds” (Savage 1962). A Proto-Polynesian application of the form to large grass-like plants is also suggested by glosses reported in the above list for reflexes in Rapa, Tuamotuan and Marquesan.

There is additional evidence that Proto-Polynesian did not have a “grass” life-form. First, four contemporary Polynesian languages totally lack “grass” life-forms (Table 2) and this number may be even larger if “grass” terms in Luangiua and Sikaiana are in fact “grerb” labels; (this complication will be discussed presently). Second, there are altogether 10 different grass terms (counting clearly related items as one term) found in the 24 languages surveyed (Table 2). In comparison, statistics for “tree,” which unambiguously reconstructs for Proto-Polynesian, are quite different. Only one language, Nukuoro, lacks a “tree” life-form (but, nevertheless, has a reflex of Proto-Polynesian “tree” which means “wood”), and only three unrelated “tree” terms are found in the 24 languages, two of these occurring only in one language, Easter Island.

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The provenance of Polynesian “grass” terms unrelated to *mutia, *matie and *m(a,o)huku are as follows. The Maori term, karaihe, is clearly borrowed from English (grass). Anutan vao apparently originally labelled “grerb” and later developed “grass” as a referent through restriction of meaning (discussed presently). According to Ross Clark (personal communication), Mele-Fila maanamu is a loan from Efate, a non-Polynesian Oceanic language. Etymologies of “grass” terms in Rapa and Pileni and the etymology of Mele-Fila's alternative “grass” label, makauku, are at this time undetermined.

Development of “grerb”

Unlike words for “tree” and “grass,” terms for “grerb” are not extensively shared by Polynesian languages (Table 2). While four languages share a “grerb” label, i.e. vao, this distribution almost certainly is due to areal diffusion. In addition, vao is a reflex of a Proto-Polynesian stem which undoubtedly designated something other than “grerb.” All evidence considered provides no reason to propose that Proto-Polynesian encoded “grerb.” Indeed, evidence indicates that most “grerb” terms were added quite recently to Polynesian botanical lexicons.

The word vao serves as a “grerb” label in East Futunan, Samoan, East Uvean and Tongan. This stem is traced to Proto-Polynesian *wao (Biggs 1979). Reflexes of *wao occur in most Polynesian languages with the meaning “forest, woods” or with closely allied meanings. This is, in fact, the gloss that is traditionally reconstructed for the stem (cf. Biggs 1979). In addition, all languages using vao as a “grerb” label also use it in reference to “forest, woods.”

The link between “forest, woods” and “grerb” is fairly clear. Forests are often places of thickly growing vegetation including both trees and small herbaceous plants. Thus, in several Polynesian languages reflexes of *wao seem to refer primarily to the bush or areas that are extensively overgrown and not so much to a collection of trees: Tikopia vaovao “brushwood overgrown, choked with weeds, fallow,” Rennellese bao “deep forest or bush area, to be deeply forested,” Tuamotuan vao “brush, forest,” Hawaiian wao “a space on the sides of mountains, a wild place thick with vines.” Reflexes of *wao in some instances have developed “thickly growing herbaceous plants” or, more simply, “underbrush” as an alternative referent to “forest, woods,” a usage which does not encompass trees, at least not large ones. For example, East Futunan and East Uvean both use vao in reference to “underbrush” in addition to using it as a label for both “forest, woods,” and “grerb.” Expansion of reference of a word for “under- - 227 brush” to small herbaceous plants in general whether thickly growing or not accounts for the development of a “grerb” referent. As it happens, there are parallel examples of just this sort of development in several Mayan languages (Brown 1979a).12

It is highly unlikely that East Futunan, Samoan, East Uvean and Tongan each independently developed a “grerb” referent for vao. Rather, almost certainly one of these languages innovated the “grerb” meaning and this usage of vao (but not necessarily the term itself) diffused to the others. The distribution of vao “grerb” has all the markings of a diffused item outlined earlier. First, it is found in languages spoken relatively close to one another when considered from the perspective of the total geographic distribution of Polynesian languages. Second, the usage crosscuts both Tongic and Samoic Outlier subgroups. Thus, vao as “grerb” occurs in Tongan, but not in Niuean, the other member language of Tongic. Similarly, the latter usage does not occur in Samoic Outlier languages west of the islands on which East Futunan is spoken.

The referential application of vao to “grass” in Anutan is probably also traced to diffusion. There is good evidence in traditional accounts that Tongan voyagers had considerable influence on Anutan speakers in the past. This is supplemented by strong evidence of linguistic borrowing from Tongan (Green 1971:360-61; Feinberg 1977). This includes at least three words, kovi “bad,” tamai “father,” and teha “seed,” uniquely shared by Anutan and Tongan (and by East Uvean which clearly borrowed these from Tongan). That a term for “seed” was borrowed by Anutun indicates that other Anutan botanical concepts could have originated with Tongan, including use of vao as a “grerb” label. If so, Anutan vao must have developed as a “grass” label through restriction of reference from a broader “grerb” range.

Development of Tuamotuan hahere (variant naihere) as a “grerb” label parallels developments described above for vao. The former stem is a reflex of Proto-Eastern Polynesian *hahele “forest” (Biggs 1979). Reflexes of *hahele in other Eastern Polynesian languages vary in application from “forest” to “bush” to “underbrush” to “weeds.” Tuamotuan hahere, then, developed its “grerb” referent through expansion of reference from a category encompassing underbrush and/or weeds, i.e. useless small herbaceous plants. It is interesting to note that the term still retains its original meaning, i.e. “forest,” in Tuamotuan poetic usage.

As in Mayan (Brown 1979a), a predominant manner in which Polynesian languages have acquired “grerb” labels is through expansion of reference of terms originally designating useless small herbaceous plants. However, terms for weeds or underbrush which expand to small her- - 228 baceous plants in general can have referential histories which do not begin with the referent “forest.” In fact, several Polynesian “grerb” terms originally referred to “trash,” “rubbish,” “filth,” “residue,” “rotten stuff,” “litter,” “garbage,” and the like, and, thus, demonstrate referential histories remarkably similar to those reported for several “grerb” labels in Mayan languages (Brown 1979a).

The Maori “grerb” label otaota traces to Proto-Polynesian *?ota?ota which meant “residue, refuse, rubbish.” Reflexes of the latter include Hawaiian okaoka “dust, fine particles,” Nukuoro odaoda “driftwood (any sort),” Tikopian otaota “rubbish,” Samoan otaota “rubbish, refuse, excrement,” Tongan ?ota?ota “sweepings, rubbish,” and Niuean otaota “rubbish, refuse, excreta.”13 As it happens, Maori otaota reveals its derivational history through contemporary alternative applications, i.e. to “litter” and to “weeds,” in addition to “grerb.”

A second Tuamotuan “grerb” term, para, is a reflex of Proto-Polynesian *pala “ripe; to rot, rotten, rotten thing” (cf. Biggs 1979). Reflexes of the latter stem are found in most Polynesian languages with meanings including “ripe, matured, mellow,” “mushy,” “rotten spoiled,” “mud, wet,” “filth, foul matter,” and “dung, manure” (see Biggs 1979 for reflexes and referents). The Tuamotuan term also means “ripe.”

Hawaiian and Mangarevan of the Marquesic branch of Central Eastern Polynesian have related “grerb” terms, weuweu and veuveu respectively. Consequently, it is conceivable that a parent stem meaning “grerb” pertained to Proto-Marquesic. Whatever the case, these two “grerb” terms trace to Proto-Polynesian *weuweu which meant “dirty, disgusting, disturbing.” Other reflexes include Tuamotuan veuveu “dirty, soiled; shabby, slovenly, unkempt, badly, carelessly -made, -constructed,” Tahitian veuveu (varient ve'uve'u) “dirty, disgusting, detestable,” East Futunan veuveu “dishevelled, in disorder,” Rennellese -beubeu “to turn the head aside or down as in mild disgust,” and Tongan veuveu “to disturb.”14

The referential history of one of the Marquesan “grerb” terms, teita (variant eita), apparently parallels those of other Polynesian “grerb” labels discussed above, although evidence bearing on it is not as extensive. A form undoubtedly related to teita is found in only one other Polynesian language, i.e. Rarotongan. Rarotongan teita (variant tita) is a “general term for rubbish of any kind, or weeds, stubble, or any thing that is of no use.”

The referential history of the “grass” term shared by the northern outliers Luangiua and Sikaiana, i.e. veve, indicates that it may, in fact, designate nongrass herbaceous plants as well as grasses.15 The label is a - 229 reflex of Proto-Polynesian *wewe which meant “rubbish, trash, garbage.” Reflexes occurring in Samoic Outlier and Tongic languages consistently reflect the latter gloss: Rennellese bebe “tattered fragment, rubbish, trash, decayed matter,” East Uvean veve “dust, sweepings, residue,” Tongan veve “rubbish, litter, refuse, garbage,” and Niuean veve “rubbish.”16 In the light of similar etymologies outlined above for several Polynesian “grerb” terms, it is possible that Luangiua and Sikaiana veve now actually designates “grerb.” If not, it almost certainly did so in the past. If the latter is the case, then “grass” developed as a referent through restriction of meaning. That the two languages share the term with the same botanical application is probably due to diffusion rather than genetic relationship.

The second Hawaiian “grerb” label, la?ala·?au, may conform with other Polynesian “grerb” terms in the spirit of its derivation. It possibly translates literally “cursed or defiled plant” (la?a = “cursed, defiled” and la·?au = “plant, tree, wood”). However, this analysis is suspect since modifiers usually follow heads in these languages (Ross Clark, personal communication).

Maori, Tuamotuan, and Rapa all use taru in reference to “grerb.” (Maori and Tuamotuan also use a reduplicated variant of the stem as a “grerb” label.) This form traces to Proto-Polynesian *talu for which Biggs (1979) reconstructs the meaning “weeds.” However, referents of reflexes (including reduplicated forms) indicate that “weeds” probably was not the proto-stem's precise meaning. A sampling of these include Rarotongan taru “weeds that have been cut down” and tarutaru “to cover over, as with soil,” Tahitian taru “dig, plough,” Marquesan ta?u “to cultivate, till, to sow (with seed),” Rennellese tagutagu “the young trees growing up where there has been a plantation, fresh growth of weeds,” and Niuean talutalu “land out of cultivation.” When all glosses are considered, it is difficult to tease out a unified proto-sense. Proto-Polynesian *talu's meaning may have extended across a range of things having to do with a cultivated area (fallow growth, removing fallow growth, tilling the soil, planting seed, caring for a garden, etc.). A “grerb” referent could have developed through expansion of meaning of any reflex that came to designate primarily “fallow growth.” Fallow growth, of course, consists mainly of weeds and other small vegetation. Expansion of reference to “grerb” could have been realised by one of the three languages and diffused to the others.

Finally, I have been unable to determine the provenance of the alternative Marquesan “grerb” term punie.

Development of “vine”

Similar to labels for “grerb”, “vine” terms are not extensively shared - 230 by Polynesian languages (Table 2). The distribution of the most widely shared “vine” label, fue, like vao “grerb” which has the same distribution (Table 2), is almost certainly due to areal diffusion. In addition, fue is traced to a Proto-Polynesian stem which designated a certain type of vine rather than vines in general. Consequently, languages having fue as “vine” developed the life-form application through expansion of reference. Languages also acquired “vine” terms through use of metaphor. Some languages have developed descriptive labels for vines such as “creeping plant.” And still others have simply borrowed “vine” terms from languages outside of the Polynesian group. In brief, there is no evidential basis for proposing that a “vine” life-form pertained to Proto-Polynesian.

Fue is shared as a label for “vine” by East Futunan, Samoan, East Uvean and Tongan. The form is descended from Proto-Polynesian *fue which designated a restricted class of vines, mainly members of the Morning-glory family, Convolvulaceae. These vines are thickly growing plants having prominent bell, trumpet, or funnel shaped flowers.

Modern reflexes of *fue denoting “morning glory” are largely restricted to languages of the Samoic Outlier subgroup of Polynesian. Examples are Kapingamarangi hu· we Ipomoea sp., Mele-Fila fufue Convolvulus, sp., Anutan pue Ipomoea brasiliense, and Rennellese hue “a beach vine or morning glory, Ipomoea pes-caprae.” A reflex with a similar referent is also found in Niuean of the Tongic subgroup: fue “a handsome species of convolvulus.” Eastern Polynesian reflexes have developed a somewhat different, but clearly related, botanical referent. These for the most part refer to gourds and to the plant which produces them, i.e. Lagenaria vulgaris. Gourd vines resemble morning glories since they are thickly growing plants with funnel-shaped flowers.

The development of “gourd”/“gourd plant” as a referent of the stem almost certainly occurred in Proto-Eastern Polynesian. Reflexes of *fue with the latter meaning are not found outside of the Eastern Polynesian subgroup. When the stem shifted in meaning from “morning glory” to “gourd”/“gourd plant,” speakers of Proto-Eastern Polynesian developed a new label for “morning glory” by linguistically marking their reflex of *fue. The derived Proto-Eastern Polynesian term reconstructs as *po·fue. Sample reflexes are Maori po· hue “Bind-weed (Bot. Convolvulus sepium),” Rarotongan (Aitutakian dialect) pohue “a climbing plant (Bot. Convolvulus brasiliensis),” Tahitian po·hueconvolvulus, morning glory,” and Hawaiian po· huehue “the beach morning-glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae).17 Forms related to *po·fue are not found outside of the Eastern Polynesian subgroup. Moreover, the stem's distribution exactly duplicates that of reflexes of *fue designating - 231 “gourd”/“gourd plant,” a fact which supports the present interpretation that Proto-Polynesian *fue denoted “morning glory.”

The shift of *fue from “morning glory” to “gourd plant” correlates with a cultural development associated with Eastern Polynesian languages. There is abundant evidence, both archaeological and linguistic, that the Fiji Islands were the point from which pre-Polynesians moved into Triangle Polynesia (Pawley and Green 1971:14-15). When they did so, they brought pottery with them. However, ceramic technology was quickly lost by Polynesians, perhaps in response to a significant deficiency of raw materials in the new environments encountered (Dodge 1943). Both coral and volcanic islands lack the necessary means for laying down quantities of clay needed for ceramic production. As a result of pottery loss, fruits of gourd plants, which were used as containers, rattles, and so on, became especially important items in the material cultures of some Polynesian groups, especially in those of people who moved into Eastern Polynesia and eventually migrated to remote parts of Oceania such as Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island (Dodge 1943). These are precisely the groups which developed reflexes of Proto-Polynesian *fue as labels for “gourd”/“gourd plant.”

Clearly some one language of the four having fue as “vine” developed the latter referent through expansion of meaning (from “morning glory”) and then diffused the innovated usage to the other three languages. The distribution of fue “vine” exactly duplicates that of vao “grerb.” It is more or less geographically continuous and crosscuts language subgroup boundaries, indicating linguistic diffusion. All evidence thus far assembled indicates that speakers of East Futunan, East Uvean, Samoan and Tongan interacted very intensely at some time in the past and that they were especially inclined to accept from one another innovations in botanical life-form growth and development.18

Expansion of reference of a slightly different variety accounts for the development of related “vine” terms in Tuamotuan and Tahitian, respectively kata and ?ata. The latter are reflexes of Proto-Polynesian *kata for which Biggs (1979) reconstructs the meaning “sprig of kava (Piper sp.).” This semantic reconstruction is apparently based on the fact that *kata reflexes meaning “sprig of kava” occur in languages of the two principal subgroups of Polynesian, i.e. Tongic and Nuclear Polynesian. As it happens, the latter meaning actually pertains only to reflexes found in East Futunan, Samoan, East Uvean and Tongan which are, of course, known for borrowing botanical usages from one another. Therefore, the occurrence of *kata reflexes with the meaning “sprig of kava” in the principal Polynesian subgroups is very likely a result of diffusion and, consequently, should not serve as the basis for reconstructing - 232 a Proto-Polynesian meaning.

Other reflexes of Proto-Polynesian *kata indicate that it referred to stems, shoots, twigs and sprigs either on the living plant or removed as of a cutting. These include Rarotongan kata “stock root, cutting, as of plants or trees” and Marquesan kata “stem of plants.” In addition, Tuamotuan and Tahitian reflexes refer respectively to “twig” and “plant stems, shoots” as well as to vines in general. These languages have developed “vine” referents for kata and ?ata by expanding their referential range from an original “stem, shoot, etc.” to those plants which are principally recognised in terms of their stem habits. In other words, expansive change has involved using a word for a principal part of a vine, i.e. its stem, to refer to the whole plant. Meaning shifts along “part of” paths are common in languages and well documented in the literature on lexical change (cf. Brown 1979b).

Tuamotuan's alternative “vine” label has developed through use of metaphor. Tuamotuan ŋata “vine” is an obsolete term which also designates “stalk” and “stem.” It is a reflex of Proto-Polynesian *ŋata “snake” (see Brown 1981 for a detailed discussion of this form). Thus Tuamotuan developed a “vine” term through metaphorically equating elongated plants with elongated animals.

The Pileni “vine” term, fau, is a reflex of Proto-Polynesian *fau which designated a certain kind of tree, the Hibiscus tiliaceus (Biggs 1979). The fibrous bark of this plant is widely used by Polynesians for making binding material which is put to various uses. In a number of languages *fau reflexes are used in reference to the binding material itself in addition to the tree out of which it is made. The Pileni term is, in fact, polysemous denoting both “vine” and “string.” Thus Pileni speakers may have developed a “vine” term by metaphorically equating elongated plants with elongated man-made materials. On the other hand, use of fau as a “vine” label may have involved expansion of reference rather than metaphor. For example, the term could have come to encompass all binding materials including vines used for tying and then expanded to vines in general.

A word related to the Mele-Fila “vine” term, va·va·, occurs in at least one other Samoic-Outlier language: Mae vava denotes “rope” (Capell 1962). Since the Mele-Fila term also designates “rope,” it is likely that “vine” developed either through use of metaphor or expansion of reference.

It is probable that Rennellese bago “vine” was borrowed from a non-Polynesian Oceanic language, perhaps one of those spoken to the immediate north of Rennell and Bellona islands in the Soloman Islands. Possible lending languages include Arosi with waro “piece of string, - 233 twine” and warowaro “vines” (Fox 1970). Sa?a with walo “a creeper, rope, string, line, vine” (Ivens 1918), Areare with waro “a liana, string, rope, fishline, string of money” (Geerts 1970), and numerous other languages of the South-Central Solomonic cluster within Eastern Oceanic having related forms. In addition to phonological similarity, Rennellese bago resembles these forms since it refers to “string” in addition to “vine.” If borrowed, the stem entered Rennellese while a rule changing r or l to g (ŋg) was still operative.

One other Polynesian “vine” term, Maori wa·ina, was borrowed from outside the Polynesian group (from English). The remaining “vine” labels of Table 2 are all descriptive terms: Hawaiian la·?au hihi “creeping plant,” Marquesan teita (or eita) kavi·vi· “climbing grerb,” Nukuoro hua-dolo “creeping (plant?),” and Niuean la·kau totolo “creeping plant.”

Development of “bush”

A “bush” life-form did not pertain to Proto-Polynesian or to any other proto-stage in the language group's history. A “bush” term is known for only three of the 24 languages surveyed (Table 2). In each case it is a descriptive label: Hawaiian la·? au li? ili? i “little tree,” Marquesan tumu hunahunati “little tree,” and Tikopian rakau muri “back of tree.”


Polynesian folk botanical life-form inventories range in size from one to five life-forms (Table 2). Only one Polynesian language, Nukuoro, has a combination of life-form terms indicating that paths other than those outlined in Figure 1 have been followed. (As it happens, Nukuoro was the only exception to the encoding sequence among the 105 languages surveyed in the original life-form study [Brown 1977].) For example, the combination “grerb,” “grass,” and “bush” (without “tree” and “vine” terms) could occur, but this and other out-of-sequence combinations are not found in Polynesian languages (with the exception of Nukuoro). Evidence of this sort from a large sample of globally distributed languages is, of course, the basis for asserting the existence of a universal lexical encoding sequence for folk botanical life-forms (Brown 1977:323-24).

Language reconstruction also provides evidence consistent with the life-form encoding sequence. Only one botanical life-form, “tree,” reconstructs for Proto-Polynesian. On the other hand, if, for example, “grass” reconstructed but not “tree,” this would contravene the predicted order in which languages acquire botanical life-forms. Polynesian languages, then, have precisely the kind of reconstructed life-form system one would expect if such systems are, in fact, built up in accord- - 234 ance with the lexical encoding sequence.

All lines of evidence indicate that Proto-Polynesian was at Stage 2 in life-form growth (Figure 1). In post Proto-Polynesian times some relatively early daughter language encoded a second life-form, “grass” (an addition that also conforms with the encoding sequence of Figure 1). The vast majority, if not all, of the “grerb,” “vine” and “bush” life-forms of contemporary Polynesian languages developed after the break-up of all subgroup proto-languages. The lateness of these is strongly indicated by the fact that their derivational histories are for the most part quite transparent and, hence, have not been obscured by linguistic changes that tend to accumulate over extended periods of time.

My interpretation of the growth of folk botanical life-forms in Polynesian is summarised as follows. Proto-Polynesian, of about 2,500 years ago, possessed only one botanical life-form, “tree.” Shortly after the parent language's break-up a daughter language innovated “grass” and this life-form diffused widely. No other botanical life-forms were encoded by Polynesian languages for about 1,500 years or until the majority of islands within East Polynesia were settled (cf. Pawley and Green 1971:26). During the last 1000 years, many Polynesian languages encoded life-forms beyond “tree” and “grass.” However, only one of these, Marquesan, added all five life-forms of the encoding sequence. For reasons to be discussed presently, it is likely that most languages acquired additional life-forms only during the last several hundred years, i.e. mainly the period of European contact. In addition, in one part of the Pacific, where East Uvean, Samoan, East Futunan and Tongan are spoken, life-form categories, especially “grerb” and “vine,” diffused extensively.


Elsewhere (Brown 1979a) a study of the growth and development of folk botanical life-forms in the Mayan language family of Mesoamerica (mainly Mexico and Guatemala) is presented which the present study follows very closely in approach. The findings of these two studies are strikingly similar with respect to both general and specific considerations. This indicates that both families have been subjected to very similar constraints on the growth and development of life-form vocabularies, constraints which are very likely univeral in scope.

First, both Proto-Polynesian and Proto-Mayan were affiliated with the same early stage of botanical life-form growth, Stage 2, having only “tree.” Second, botanical life-form growth has occurred very late in both language group histories. For the most part, Polynesian and Mayan languages did not begin to add life-forms beyond “tree” and “grass” to - 235 their botanical vocabularies until approximately 1,000 years ago. In both cases the recency of terms for “grerb,” “vine,” and “bush” is strongly indicated by the fact that their referential histories are transparent and easily recovered by the comparative method.

When Polynesian and Mayan languages began to innovate “grerb,” “vine,” and “bush” life-forms, they did so in remarkably similar ways. “Bush” terms, for example, in languages of each group are, for the most part, descriptive terms such as “little tree.” In addition, languages of both groups have developed “vine” life-forms through use of terms for binding materials such as rope, cord, twine and string. However, it is the innovation of “grerb” that presents the most striking parallels with respect to derivational detail.

The majority of “grerb” life-forms of both language groups have been innovated by expanding the range of reference of terms for useless small herbaceous plants (underbrush, fallow growth, weeds, etc.) to small herbaceous plants in general. Even more striking is the fact that in both groups the derivational histories of terms for useless plants which are expanded to “grerb” are often virtually identical. In many cases “grerb” terms are reflexes of words which originally meant “trash,” “rubbish,” “filth,” “garbage,” “residue,” “litter,” “rotten stuff,” “spoiled stuff,” and the life.


Parallels outlined above for Polynesian and Mayan are in some instances traced to similar constraints on life-form growth arising from similar ways in which their respective societies have changed over time.

There is an important cultural influence on biological categorisation. The size of biological life-form vocabularies is affected by societal scale and complexity. It has been noted elsewhere (Brown 1977, 1979c) that the number of biological life-form terms in languages is positively correlated with societal scale. Languages having few life-forms are usually spoken by peoples living in small-scale societies which demonstrate little of the political integration, social stratification and technological elaboration of peoples of large-scale societies who usually speak languages possessing many of these terms. Since major increases in societal scale and widespread urbanisation have occurred during recent millennia of human history, it is likely that, for the most part, life-form labels are relatively recent additions to the biological lexicons of languages and that languages spoken in the remote past had few, if any, plant and animal life-form words.19 This probably accounts for the fact that both Proto-Polynesian and Proto-Mayan were affiliated with an early stage of life-form growth (having only one botanical life-form term).

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The special usefulness and aptness of biological life-forms in large-scale urban societies may relate to the increasing separation of humans from direct reliance and dependence on the natural world as societies become larger and more complex. The typical individual in a small-scale society can commonly name and identify hundreds of separate plant species (Berlin et al. 1974, Conklin 1954, Hays 1976), while typical non-specialist members of modern urban society might do well to name and identify even one hundred (Doughtery 1978). When people lose detailed knowledge of plants and animals including names for them, less specific terms, such as life-form labels, become increasingly salient and tend to grow in number. Addition of biological life-form classes to languages, then, indexes a general decrease of interest in and concern with plants and animals.

The recency of “grerb,” “vine,” and “bush” life-forms in Polynesian and Mayan languages is linked to the recency of world-wide massive increases in societal scale and complexity. It is not inconceivable that much of the botanical life-form growth which occurred late in these groups, especially in Polynesian, took place in response to cultural changes brought about through contact with Europeans during the last several hundred years. However, ancestors of speakers of contemporary Mayan languages, unlike ancestors of Polynesians, participated in large-scale urban life some 1000 years before the arrival of Europeans. This, perhaps, is reflected by the fact that modern Mayan languages are relatively advanced in botanical life-form growth, all but one of the 26 languages surveyed having at least three life-forms, and 17 having four or more (Brown 1979a:370-71). On the other hand, one Polynesian language, Nukuoro, has only one botanical life-form, and one other, Kapingamarangi,20 has only two. In addition, only seven of the 24 languages have four or more life-form classes (Table 2).

The lateness of “grerb” in Polynesian and Mayan languages is probably due to a specific result of increases in societal scale. While pressures for adding life-forms are traced to that phenomenon, life-forms presumably will not be innovated under such pressures unless languages can supply potential innovators with convenient raw lexical materials for doing so with relative ease. With respect to the cases at hand, most languages have turned to terms for useless small herbaceous plants for creating “grerb” categories through expansion of reference. Terms for “weeds,” “underbrush,” “fallow growth” and so on, then, frequently constitute the raw lexical materials out of which “grerb” categories are constructed. They are convenient since they are salient terms of currency which already refer to a broad class of small herbaceous plants. One need merely remove the component of - 237 “uselessness” from their definition to facilitate reference of such terms to small herbaceous plants in general (Brown 1979a:375).

If a language has terms for “weeds,” “underbrush,” “fallow growth,” etc., chances that it will innovate “grerb” under pressures of increasing societal scale are possibly greater than otherwise. As it happens, the encoding of “weed” and related categories is almost certainly positively correlated with societal scale. Small-scale nonagricultural societies obviously have no need for lexically distinguishing weeds, i.e. bothersome plants that interfere with the growth of cultivated ones. Indeed, it may be the case that many languages do not innovate “weed” until their speakers have committed themselves to highly intensive forms of agriculture supporting reasonably large-scale economies. This seems true of both Polynesian and Mayan languages. While terms for domesticated plants reconstruct for both parent languages,21 terms for “weed,” “underbrush,” etc., apparently do not. The lateness of “weed” terms in both groups is, of course, also attested by the fact that their derivations are easily traced to terms for “rubbish,” “litter,” “filth,” “garbage” and so on. It is, then, possibly the case that “grerb” life-forms have emerged late in Polynesian and Mayan language histories in part because convenient raw lexical materials for constructing them, i.e. terms for “weed,” “underbrush,” etc., have themselves been relatively late in development.

Since changes in societal complexity underlying several parallel developments in Polynesian and Mayan have, in fact, been world-wide, such features of botanical life-form growth and development almost certainly extend to other genetic groupings of languages as well. It is, therefore, highly likely that similar developments in Polynesian and Mayan languages reported here will prove global, if not near universal, in future investigations.


Sources for the twenty-four Polynesian languages surveyed are as follows: Anutan Feinberg (1977), Green (1971); Easter Island Englert (1938), Fuentes (1960); East Futunan Grézel (1878); East Uvean Bataillon (1932); Hawaiian Pukui and Elbert (1971), Tregear (1891); Kapingamarangi Lieber and Dikepa (1974); Luangiua Lanyon-Orgill (1944); Pawley (1967); Mangaia Christian (1924); Mangarevan Tregear (1891, 1899); Maori Tregear (1891); Williams (1971); Marquesan Dordillon (1931, 1932); Mele-Fila Biggs (1975), Capell (1942), Ross Clark (personal communication); Niuean McEwen (1970), Tregear and Smith (1907); Nukuoro Carroll and Soulik (1973); Pileni Ray (1921); Rapa Stokes (1955); Rarotongan Savage (1962), Tregear (1891); Rennellese Elbert (1975); Samoan Milner (1966), Neffgen (1918), Setchell (1924), Tregear (1891); Sikaiana Capell (1936), Pawley (1967), Ray (1917); Tahitian Andrews and Andrews (1944), Jaussen (1969), Lemaitre (1973), Tregear (1891); Tikopian Durrad (1913), Williams (1926, 1927); Tongan Churchward (1959), Missionnaires Maristes (1890); Tuamotuan Stimson and Marshall (1964).

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- 239 Page of endnotes

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  • ENGLERT, P. Sebastian, 1938. Diccionario Rapanui-Español: Radactado en la Isla de Pascua. Santiago, Prensas de la Universidad de Chile.
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1   Bruce Biggs, Robert A. Blust, Pierre Cabalion, Paul K. Chase, Ann Chowning, Ross Clark, Richard Feinberg, George W. Grace, Albert C. Heinrich, Charles F. Hockett, Rolf Kuschel, Eugene A. Nida, Andrew Pawley, Geoffrey White, Ralph Gardner White, and Stanley R. Witkowski contributed to this project in various important ways. Their assistance is gratefully acknowledged. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BNS-7906074.
2   Readers should bear in mind that the comparative method of historical linguistics yielding reconstructions is not totally determinate. The approach is not mechanical and interpretative errors are, of course, possible. Conclusions, then, are often merely probable in varying degrees. While I have attempted to give balanced arguments with respect to the validity of reconstructions, wording in places perhaps suggests more determinancy than is actually the case. This may result from an attempt to avoid monotonous qualifications and reservations of a minor nature which can easily accumulate in prose and detract from major points addressed.
At several places in this paper “negative” reconstructions are proposed. In other words, evidence is cited suggesting that terms for such and such a referent, e.g., “grass” or “vine,” did not pertain to a proto-language. Negative proposals, like “positive” reconstructions, are also merely probable in varying degrees. Failure to reconstruct does not necessarily mean that a particular referent did not pertain to a parent language. Terms for certain referents in parent languages can be totally replaced by new lexical items designating those referents in daughter languages, so that reconstructions are sometimes impossible. However, in this paper I am proceeding on the assumption that failure to reconstruct is more likely indicative of a proto-language's lack of a botanical life-form than of widespread lexical replacement. Clearly such an assumption is more applicable to items of some lexical domains than others. For example, frequently tabooed words, such as those denoting sexual organs, are probably subject to frequent replacement through euphemism. On the other hand, I see no similar reasons for presuming that general names for plants are frequently replaced.
3   Some sources inconsistently record vowel length or totally ignore it. Vowel length is given here as in sources consulted. In addition, there is occasionally some confusion in sources with respect to the presence or absence of glottal stops.
4   (a) = “grass” + “herb”
5  (c) = exact extension not known
6   (b) = “herb”
7  may not be full “grerb” term
8   Proto-Polynesian *ra?akau “wood”/“tree” is probably a compound form made up of the parent language's words for “branch” and “wood”/“tree”/“stem”/“stalk,” respectively *ra?a (cf. Elbert 1975:45) and *kau (cf. Biggs 1979). The overt marking of *kau through use of *ra?a freed *kau to stand alone as a label for “stem”/“stalk,” a meaning of many contemporary reflexes (Biggs 1979). In at least one Polynesian language, Sikaiana, a *kau reflex has retained its earlier referent, i.e. “tree” (Table 2). In addition, the Anutan reflex, kau, designates “wood.” Proto-Polynesian *kau is cognate with Fijian kau “tree”/“wood”/“stick” (Capell 1941) indicating that a “tree” life-form pertained to Proto-Central Pacific.
9  Blust (personal communication) proposes that the Eastern Polynesian compound forms for “tree” continue a Proto-Austronesian compound “tree” label, *puqun ni kaS2iw, with lexical replacement (tumu for puqun).
10  Assimilation (once regular in Tongan, sporadic in most other Polynesian languages) accounts for reflexes of *mutia showing final e for Proto-Polynesian *a (Andrew Pawley, personal communication). Also, in Tongic languages *t regularly shifts to s when immediately preceding i in a stem, explaining the Tongan and Niuean forms. The same shift occurs in East Uvean, accounting for that language's form (Ross Clark, personal communication).
11   Rennellese is the only language I have encountered in several world surveys of botanical lexicons that lumps grasses and ferns together in a labelled class. Since mouku extends to all grasses, I have treated it as a “grass” life-form label (Table 2). It is possible that grasses constitute the semantic focus of the category and that ferns are included only secondarily. If not, then mouku should not be codified as a “grass” life-form label.
12   Most Mayan terms for “underbrush” which expanded to “grerb” developed from adjectives meaning “thick” and “deep” (Brown 1979a). However, at least one Mayan “grerb” term, Pocomchi k'iče·?, traces to a proto-form which meant “forest, woods” and, thus, probably has a referential history identical to that of vao “grerb” of Polynesian languages. The “forest, woods” to “underbrush” to “grerb” chain of developments was not discussed in Brown 1979a.
13  Proto-Polynesian *ota?ota was probably derived by reduplication from Proto-Polynesian *?ota “dregs” (Biggs 1979). Reflexes of the latter stem often refer specifically to dregs of grated coconut after the oil has been expressed, perhaps the proto-form's precise application.
14  Proto-Polynesian *weuweu probably was derived by reduplication from Proto-Polynesian *weu “frayed or tattered material.” Reflexes of the latter include Maori weu “a rootlet, a fibre, tuft of hair,” Tuamotuan veu “a fringe of fibrous material,” Tahitian veu “the frayed end of a rope,” Marquesan veuveu “extremities of leaves,” and Easter Island veu (or beu) “roots of certain plants.” East Futunan veuveu also means “fringe.” The connection between “dirty, disgusting, disturbing” and “frayed or tattered material” is suggested by the gloss for Tuamotuan veuveu given in the text: messy loose fibres are plausibly associated with shoddy material and workmanship and, hence, are unwanted, disturbing, or disgusting things.
15  The use of veve as a “grass” term in Luangiua and Sikaiana is reported by Pawley (1967:285) in a paper treating the relationship of Polynesian Outlier languages. Since Pawley was not concerned with explicating the full botanical extensions of terms, it is possible that “grass” was used simply as a convenient gloss. The range of “grerb”, of course, often includes grasses.
16  Reflexes are also found in Eastern Polynesian languages but with a somewhat different, though plausibly related, semantic focus: Tuamotuan veve “to be poor, destitute,” Rarotongan veve “poor, needy, destitute,” Tahitian veve “poor, poverty stricken,” and Easter Island be?be (variant ve?ve) “poor, poverty”) (the Easter Island form is troublesome since it should not reflect a central glottal stop). The Eastern Polynesian sense is clearly a more recent meaning than “rubbish, etc.” since poverty is usually associated with recent massive increases in overall societal scale.
17  The overt mark *po· is possibly a reflex of the Proto-Polynesian word for “night,” i.e. *po· (Biggs 1979). Its use in the derivation of Proto-Eastern Polynesian *po·fue may have something to do with the fact that flowers of morning glories noticeably contract at night and do not reopen until stimulated by the direct light of the sun. Ross Clark (personal communication) argues that typical head-modifier order and pervasive use of po· as a prefix renders this interpretation unlikely.
18  Biggs (1979) also reconstructs “vine” as the referent of Proto-Polynesian *fue apparently on the basis that East Futunan, East Uvean, Samoan and Tongan all use fue as a label for the life-form.
19  The association between societal scale and size of botanical life-form lexicons is relatively high: gamma is .59 (p · .05, N = 54) (Brown 1977:331). This is not, of course, a perfect correlation. Thus, among the world's languages there are some that are exceptions to the generalisation that languages having many botanical life-form terms are associated with large-scale urban societies and those having few with small-scale societies. This indicates that societal scale is not the only factor that ever affects size of botanical life-form lexicons, that life-form growth in individual languages is also sensitive to other influences. However, the correlation shows that a significant percentage of languages having many botanical life-form terms are associated with large-scale societies and that a significant percentage of those having few with small-scale societies. Thus, societal scale constitutes the usual, but not the only factor underlying botanical life-form growth. There is, then, a world-wide tendency for languages to add botanical life-form terms as societal scale increases.
20   The paucity of botanical life-form terms in Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi may be due in part to the fact that these languages are spoken on coral atolls which support little botanical species diversity (cf. Brown 1977:328-32).
21  See Pawley and Green (1971:32) for Proto-Polynesian results and Kaufman (1964:96-100) for Proto-Mayan reconstructions.