Introduction to Cognitive Science

Women, Fire, & Dangerous Things

Last Update: 14 October 2008

Note: NEW or UPDATED material is highlighted


Lakoff, George (1987), Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press): 92-96.

"Here is a brief version of the Dyirbal ["an aboriginal language of Australia"] classification of objects in the universe....:"

  1. Bayi: men, kangaroos, possums, bats, most snakes, most fishes, some birds, most insects, the moon, storms, rainbows, boomerangs, some spears, etc.

  2. Balan: women, bandicoots, dogs, platypus, echidna, some snakes, some fishes, most birds, fireflies, scorpions, crickets, the hairy mary grub, anything connected with water or fire, sun and stars, shields, some spears, some trees, etc.

  3. Balam: all edible fruit and the plants that bear them, tubers, ferns, honey, cigarettes, wine, cake

  4. Bala: parts of the body, meat, bees, wind, yamsticks, some spears, most trees, grass, mud stones, noises and language, etc.

[R.M.W.] Dixon's proposed basic schema is this:

  1. Bayi: (human) males; animals

  2. Balan: (human) females; water; fire; fighting

  3. Balam: nonflesh food

  4. Bala: everything not in the other classes

Copyright © 2008 by William J. Rapaport (