Linguistic Influence on Russian and American Ethnobiological Categorization

  • Justin M. Nolan Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
  • Aina Zaresheva Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Missouri, Columbia
  • Michael C. Robbins Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia
Keywords: Linguistic ethnobiology, Cognition and classification, Linguistic relativity, Triad sorts, Folk taxonomies


In the Russian language, nouns are classified by gender and animacy, whereas in English, nouns are not. Using triad-sorts of names for biological and non-biological taxa, a comparison of results provided by native speakers of both languages reveals that cognitive categorizations of animate and inanimate nomenclatural forms differ significantly between speakers of Russian and American English. Speakers of American English appear to categorize names for living nouns more by phenotype than do Russians, who in turn appear to classify nouns more frequently on the basis of linguistic features such as gender. These results are believed to be pertinent to the elicitation and construction of folk ethnobiology taxonomies.

Author Biographies

Justin M. Nolan, Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Justin Nolan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas. His research examines folk knowledge of natural resources, traditional medicine in the Ozarks, social ecology in the American South, and the interactions between language, cognition, and culture. Nolan served as President of the Society of Ethnobiology from 2011-2013.

Aina Zaresheva, Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Missouri, Columbia
Aina Zaresheva is a graduate student in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Missouri, Columbia, USA.
Michael C. Robbins, Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia
Michael C. Robbins is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, USA.


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How to Cite
Nolan, J. M., Zaresheva, A., & Robbins, M. C. (2019). Linguistic Influence on Russian and American Ethnobiological Categorization. Ethnobiology Letters, 10(1), 18-22.
Research Communications