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Lexical Conflict: The Difficulties of Establishing Lexical Equivalence

Professor Danko Sipka, Arizona State University

Thursday, June 4, 2015 - 3:30pm
Simpson Center for the Humanities
202 Communications Building - Google Map

Roman Jacobson stated that languages differ not in what they can covey but what they have to convey. Тhus English as to refer to  either foot or leg while Slavic languages can use нога/noga/noha for both, Mandarin Chinese has to differentiate between younger and older brother (dìdì, 弟弟and gēgē, 哥哥)  while English covers both with the word brother. These cases exemplify cross-linguistic lexical differences where one cannot establish full equivalence between two languages. In this talk, based on the author’s forthcoming monograph with Cambridge University Press (, three types of lexical conflict are discussed: zero equivalence (e.g., Nenets тёмба(сь) to hang fishing nets on a drying rack, Shona kurova guva the ceremony in which the spirit of the deceased is brought home on the anniversary of his/her death), multiple equivalence (the fact that Russian мозг covers brain and spine, or that Yandruwanda uses ngarndri for mother, her sisters, and their daughters), and partial equivalence (e.g., that the desert called floating island is “nothing soup” in Polish, “birds milk” in Romanian, and “snow eggs” in standard German or that one o’clock in the morning in Swahili corresponds to seven a.m. in English. The author builds a taxonomy of these differences and discusses their applied-linguistic ramifications.


Danko Sipka is a professor of Slavic languages and applied linguistics at Arizona State University, where he teaches Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Polish, and Slavic linguistics in the School of International Letters and Cultures. He also holds a titular (presidential) professorship conferred upon him by the president of the Republic of Poland. His previous experience includes stints at the universities of Sarajevo, Belgrade (former Yugoslavia), Poznan, Wroclaw, Warsaw, the Jagiellonian University (Poland), and the universities of Munich and Dusseldorf. Dr. Sipka served as a senior linguist or consultant to numerous language industry companies, such as McNeil Technologies, Microsoft, Inxight, Comprehensive Language Center, Glyph, TranExp, Avant Assessment, Franklin Electronic Publishers, Microsoft Proofing Unit and others. He hold a Ph.D. in linguistics from the U. of Belgrade, a doctorate in psychology from the Polish Academy of Sciences, and an M.A. in Russian from the University of Poznan. Prof. Sipka is an ACTFL-certified Oral Proficiency Tester for Polish and English.

Danko Sipka's research interests include lexicography, lexicology, lexical and inflectional morphology, computational linguistics, and computer-assisted learning. His publications encompass over 150 papers and reviews as well as over 20 books, including: SerboCroatian-English Colloquial Dictionary, Springfield: Dunwoody Press, 2000, p. i-xxxiv, 1-664, Dictionary of Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian New Words, Springfield: Dunwoody Press, 2002, p. i-xii, 1-130, and A Comparative Reference Grammar of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Springfield: Dunwoody Press, 2007, 1-740. Dr. Sipka has presented invited lectures and keynote talks in the United States, Poland, Germany, Austria, and Serbia. Prof. Sipka is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Less Commonly Taught Languages. His most recent monograph titled Lexical Conflict: Theory and practice is scheduled to appear in September 2015 with Cambridge University Press.

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