Sir James George Frazer > The Golden Bough > Page 254
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Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

Page 254
 
of the ghost; and for the same purpose they disguise themselves by shaving their heads so that the ghost is unable to recognise them.
  Further, when the name of the deceased happens to be that of some common object, such as an animal, or plant, or fire, or water, it is sometimes considered necessary to drop that word in ordinary speech and replace it by another. A custom of this sort, it is plain, may easily be a potent agent of change in language; for where it prevails to any considerable extent many words must constantly become obsolete and new ones spring up. And this tendency has been remarked by observers who have recorded the custom in Australia, America, and elsewhere. For example, with regard to the Australian aborigines it has been noted that “the dialects change with almost every tribe. Some tribes name their children after natural objects; and when the person so named dies, the word is never again mentioned; another word has therefore to be invented for the object after which the child was called.” The writer gives as an instance the case of a man whose name Karla signified “fire”; when Karla died, a new word for fire had to be introduced. “Hence,” adds the writer, “the language is always changing.” Again, in the Encounter Bay tribe of South Australia, if a man of the name of Ngnke, which means “water,” were to die, the whole tribe would be obliged to use some other word to express water for a considerable time after his decease. The writer who records this custom surmises that it may explain the presence of a number of synonyms in the language of the tribe. This conjecture is confirmed by what we know of some Victorian tribes whose speech comprised a regular set of synonyms to be used instead of the common terms by all members of a tribe in times of mourning. For instance, if a man called Waa ( “crow”) departed this life, during the period of mourning for him nobody might call a crow a waa; everybody had to speak of the bird as a narrapart. When a person who rejoiced in the title of Ringtail Opossum (weearn) had gone the way of all flesh, his sorrowing relations and the tribe at large were bound for a time to refer to ringtail opossums by the more sonorous name of manuungkuurt. If the community were plunged in grief for the loss of a respected female who bore the honourable name of Turkey Bustard, the proper name for turkey bustards, which was barrim barrim, went out, and tillit tilliitsh came in. And so mutatis mutandis with the names of Black Cockatoo, Grey Duck, Gigantic Crane, Kangaroo, Eagle, Dingo, and the rest.
  A similar custom used to be constantly transforming the language of the Abipones of Paraguay, amongst whom, however, a word once abolished seems never to have been revived. New words, says the missionary Dobrizhoffer, sprang up every year like mushrooms in a night, because all words that resembled the names of the dead were abolished by proclamation and others coined in their place. The mint of words was in the hands of the old women of the tribe, and whatever term they stamped with their approval and put in circulation was immediately accepted without a murmur by high and low alike, and

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