chapter  2
Semantic Categorization and Cognition
ByGerrit J. Dimmendaal
Pages 14

One crucial way in which individuals learn about the cultural practices of the community in which they grow up is through language. By gaining an understanding of the language spoken by such a community, social scientists consequently may also arrive at a better comprehension of the cultures they are interested in, as argued by one of the pioneers of linguistic anthropology, Frans Boas (1858-1942). His primary experience as an anthropologist was with the Kwakiutl and other First Nations groups in Canada. Boas saw lexical categories in languages as experience-derived classifications, as one way in which human beings can deal with the complexity of their environment. Such categories tend to be organized into semantic fields, the latter representing collections of words together covering a complete conceptual field. These words may represent concepts, they may name or refer to objects, and they may also categorize the latter.