A Linguistic and Cultural History of the Spleen in the Romance Languages

Author: Ecaterina Pavel (Transilvania University of Brasov, Romania)
Speaker: Ecaterina Pavel
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
COMELA 2021 General Session


The history of the words inherited from Latin and Greek shows how various semantic fields and classes of lexemes have ensured the unity of the Romance languages. Among them ​​are the anatomical terms referring to body parts, organs and functions. However, there is a “mysterious” organ (Haque, A. 2006) with separate and sinuous lexical evolutions and a surprising transformation: the spleen. From the ancient theory of humours to Baudelaire’s poetic spleen, the term has known multiple transfigurations both in the linguistic and the cultural fields and has developed additional meanings over time. The present study is a diachronic review of the evolution of the term designating the anatomical spleen in the Romance languages, but also an incursion into the ancillary traditions and beliefs which have shaped its semantic fluctuations in different regions of Europe. Several concepts from medical anthropology will also be investigated, such as various interpretations of the spleen function and processes over time or medical approaches shaped by the cultural and historical settings.  

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Keywords: Spleen, Romance languages, historical linguistics, cultural linguistics, rate, bazo, baço, milza