v45: klippa

I’ve been studying verbs that describe cutting and breaking, events of material separation, or C&B if you will [Majid A, et al. How similar are semantic categories in closely related languages? A comparison of cutting and breaking in four Germanic languages. Cognitive Linguistics 2007; 18(2): 179-194]. It turns out that this is an interesting thing to study across languages, because C&B is a fairly universal concept (tools for the purpose having been fashioned millions of years ago), and because C&B events involve what we may regard as prototypical verbs: somoeone does something to something, resulting in a change of state.

But then it gets complicated. Languages typically have over 20 verbs that can be used to describe C&B events. Some events are associated with a specific verb (saw), whereas some aren’t (crush, pound, pulverise, smash).

The simple answer to last week’s question: in English, both the scissors and the knife cut. In Swedish there is no single word for cut; what scissors do is klippa (same origin as English clip), and what knives do is skära (same origin as English shear). As with English, German has a single word for cut (schneiden), whereas Dutch has the scissors/knife distinction (knippen/snijden). English/German/Dutch/Swedish all have a specific word for saw (saw/sägen/zagen/såga).

Interesting, but so what? Well, it does have implications for both second language learning and translation. My Norstedts Stora Engelsk-Svenska Ordbok, under cut, lists skära, hugga, klippa, snoppa, meja av, slå,lla, utesluta, and more, with little indication of how to choose between them. Examples for klippa are (I quote) “[~ a film (tape); ~ a hedge]”.häcksax From the above, I would have thought of cutting hair as a good obvious example. Using klippa for hedges makes me think of some sort of large pair of scissors, but in fact, the electric instrument typically used for cutting hedges is a häcksax (hedge-scissors) (at right), and it certainly has more than one blade. The same dictionary also has an entry hedge-cutter = häckklippare. I hope that’s all clear now!

A final note: scissors (plural) = en sax (singular). Perhaps more on that in a future post.

Next week:

bottle and box

What’s in the bottle? (Hint: What’s in the box?)

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Published in: on November 8, 2009 at 12:57  Comments (1)  
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  1. If you look up ‘häcksax’ in Wikipedia
    (http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A4cksax) you will find a picture of both the original version which is indeed a large pair of scissors, and the newer version which is electrical or enginge driven and doesn’t look like a pair of scissors and would be better called a ‘häck-klippare’ (hedgecutter).


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