Ineffability, the degree to which percepts or concepts resist linguistic coding, is a fairly unexplored nook of cognitive science. Although philosophical preoccupations with qualia or nonconceptual content certainly touch upon the area, there has been little systematic thought and hardly any empirical work in recent years on the subject. We argue that ineffability is an important domain for the cognitive sciences. For examining differential ineffability across the senses may be able to tell us important things about how the mind works, (...) how different modalities talk to one another, and how language does, or does not, interact with other mental faculties. (shrink)
To what extent does perceptual language reflect universals of experience and cognition, and to what extent is it shaped by particular cultural preoccupations? This paper investigates the universality~relativity of perceptual language by examining the use of basic perception terms in spontaneous conversation across 13 diverse languages and cultures. We analyze the frequency of perception words to test two universalist hypotheses: that sight is always a dominant sense, and that the relative ranking of the senses will be the same across different (...) cultures. We find that references to sight outstrip references to the other senses, suggesting a pan-human preoccupation with visual phenomena. However, the relative frequency of the other senses was found to vary cross-linguistically. Cultural relativity was conspicuous as exemplified by the high ranking of smell in Semai, an Aslian language. Together these results suggest a place for both universal constraints and cultural shaping of the language of perception. (shrink)
Previous studies claim there are few olfactory metaphors cross-linguistically, especially compared to metaphors originating in the visual and auditory domains. We show olfaction can be a source for metaphor and metonymy in a lesser-described language that has rich lexical resources for talking about odors. In Seri, an isolate language of Mexico spoken by indigenous hunter-gatherers, we find a novel metaphor for emotion never previously described – “anger stinks”. In addition, distinct odor verbs are used metaphorically to distinguish volitional vs. non-volitional (...) states-of-affairs. Finally, there is ample olfactory metonymy in Seri, especially prevalent in names for plants, but also found in names for insects and artifacts. This calls for a re-examination of better-known languages for the overlooked role olfaction may play in metaphor and metonymy. The Seri language illustrates how valuable data from understudied languages can be in highlighting novel ways by which people conceptualize themselves and their world. (shrink)
Although taste and smell seem hard to imagine, some people nevertheless report vivid imagery in these sensory modalities. We investigate whether experts are better able to imagine smells and tastes because they have learned the ability, or whether they are better imaginers in the first place, and so become experts. To test this, we first compared a group of wine experts to yoked novices using a battery of questionnaires. We show for the first time that experts report greater vividness of (...) wine imagery, with no difference in vividness across sensory modalities. In contrast, novices had more vivid color imagery than taste or odor imagery for wines. Experts and novices did not differ on other vividness of imagery measures, suggesting a domain‐specific effect of expertise. Critically, in a second study, we followed a group of students commencing a wine course and a group of matched control participants. Students and controls did not differ before the course, but after the wine course students reported more vivid wine imagery. We provide evidence that expertise improves imagery, exemplifying the extent of plasticity of cognition underlying the chemical senses. (shrink)
According to widespread opinion, the meaning of body part terms is determined by salient discontinuities in the visual image; such that hands, feet, arms, and legs, are natural parts. If so, one would expect these parts to have distinct names which correspond in meaning across languages. To test this proposal, we compared three unrelated languages—Dutch, Japanese, and Indonesian—and found both naming systems and boundaries of even basic body part terms display variation across languages. Bottom-up cues alone cannot explain natural language (...) semantic systems; there simply is not a one-to-one mapping of the body semantic system to the body structural description. Although body parts are flexibly construed across languages, body parts semantics are, nevertheless, constrained by non-linguistic representations in the body structural description, suggesting these are necessary, although not sufficient, in accounting for aspects of the body lexicon. (shrink)
Olfaction has recently been highlighted as a sense poorly connected with language. Odor is difficult to verbalize, and it has few qualities that afford mimicry by vision or sound. At the same time, emotion is thought to be the most salient dimension of an odor, and it could therefore be an olfactory dimension more easily communicated. We investigated whether sounds imitative of an innate disgust response can be associated with unpleasant odors. In two experiments, participants were asked to make a (...) forced choice between a pseudoword including a disgust sound and a neutral pseudoword, for pleasant and unpleasant odors. Overall, participants chose more disgust pseudowords than neutral pseudowords for unpleasant odors, but this was not the case for pleasant odors. This effect was not driven by a general association between unpleasant sounds and unpleasant odors, but specifically the sounds [x/χ] and [f], thought to reflect physical responses to disgusting odors, as seen in the Polish fu! or the English ugh!. In line with growing evidence that language can encode odor, we provide the first experimental evidence for an association between the sound of a word and odor valence. (shrink)
Height-pitch associations are claimed to be universal and independent of language, but this claim remains controversial. The present study sheds new light on this debate with a multimodal analysis of individual sound and melody descriptions obtained in an interactive communication paradigm with speakers of Dutch and Farsi. The findings reveal that, in contrast to Dutch speakers, Farsi speakers do not use a height-pitch metaphor consistently in speech. Both Dutch and Farsi speakers’ co-speech gestures did reveal a mapping of higher pitches (...) to higher space and lower pitches to lower space, and this gesture space-pitch mapping tended to co-occur with corresponding spatial words (high-low). However, this mapping was much weaker in Farsi speakers than Dutch speakers. This suggests that cross-linguistic differences shape the conceptualization of pitch and further calls into question the universality of height-pitch associations. (shrink)
Apart from references to perception, words such as see and listen have shared, non-literal meanings across diverse languages. Such cross-linguistic meanings have not been systematically investigated as they appear in their natural home — informal spoken interaction. We present a qualitative examination of the semantic associations of perception verbs based on recorded everyday conversation in thirteen diverse languages. Across these diverse communities, spontaneous interaction provides evidence for two commonly-discussed extensions of perception verbs — perception~cognition, hearing~linguistic communication — as well as (...) illustrating other meanings and functions that have been less appreciated heretofore. The range of usage that is readily observable in informal conversation makes it clear that this type of data must take center stage for the empirically grounded study of semantics. Moreover, these data suggest that commonalities in polysemous meanings may rely not only on universal cognition, but also on the universal exigencies of social interaction. (shrink)
The linguistic and cognitive sciences have severely underestimated the degree of linguistic diversity in the world. Part of the reason for this is that we have projected assumptions based on English and familiar languages onto the rest. We focus on some distortions this has introduced, especially in the study of semantics.
Do we mentally simulate olfactory information? We investigated mental simulation of odors and sounds in two experiments. Participants retained a word while they smelled an odor or heard a sound, then rated odor/sound intensity and recalled the word. Later odor/sound recognition was also tested, and pleasantness and familiarity judgments were collected. Word recall was slower when the sound and sound-word mismatched. Sound recognition was higher when sounds were paired with a match or near-match word. This indicates sound-words are mentally simulated. (...) However, using the same paradigm no memory effects were observed for odor. Instead it appears odor-words only affect lexical-semantic representations, demonstrated by higher ratings of odor intensity and pleasantness when an odor was paired with a match or near-match word. These results suggest fundamental differences in how odor and sound-words are represented. (shrink)
Emotion scientists often take an ambivalent stance concerning the role of language in a science of emotion. However, it is important for emotion researchers to contemplate some of the consequences of current practices for their theory building. There is a danger of an overreliance on the English language as a transparent window into emotion categories. More consideration has to be given to cross-linguistic comparison in the future so that models of language acquisition and of the language–cognition interface fit better the (...) extant variation found in today’s peoples. (shrink)
When researchers think about the interaction between language and emotion, they typically focus on descriptive emotion words. This review demonstrates that emotion can interact with language at many levels of structure, from the sound patterns of a language to its lexicon and grammar, and beyond to how it appears in conversation and discourse. Findings are considered from diverse subfields across the language sciences, including cognitive linguistics, psycholinguistics, linguistic anthropology, and conversation analysis. Taken together, it is clear that emotional expression is (...) finely tuned to language-specific structures. Future emotion research can better exploit cross-linguistic variation to unravel possible universal principles operating between language and emotion. (shrink)
According to widespread opinion, the meaning of body part terms is determined by salient discontinuities in the visual image; such that hands, feet, arms, and legs, are natural parts. If so, one would expect these parts to have distinct names which correspond in meaning across languages. To test this proposal, we compared three unrelated languages—Dutch, Japanese, and Indonesian—and found both naming systems and boundaries of even basic body part terms display variation across languages. Bottom‐up cues alone cannot explain natural language (...) semantic systems; there simply is not a one‐to‐one mapping of the body semantic system to the body structural description. Although body parts are flexibly construed across languages, body parts semantics are, nevertheless, constrained by non‐linguistic representations in the body structural description, suggesting these are necessary, although not sufficient, in accounting for aspects of the body lexicon. (shrink)
In two eye-tracking studies we investigated the influence of Mandarin numeral classifiers – a grammatical category in the language – on online overt attention. Mandarin speakers were presented with simple sentences through headphones while their eye-movements to objects presented on a computer screen were monitored. The crucial question is what participants look at while listening to a pre-specified target noun. If classifier categories influence Mandarin speakers' general conceptual processing, then on hearing the target noun they should look at objects that (...) are members of the same classifier category – even when the classifier is not explicitly present. The data show that when participants heard a classifier they shifted overt attention significantly more to classifiermatch objects than to distractor objects, but when the classifier was not explicitly presented in speech, overt attention to classifier-match objects and distractor objects did not differ. This suggests that although classifier distinctions do influence eye-gaze behavior, they do so only during linguistic processing of that distinction and not in moment-to-moment general conceptual processing. (shrink)
Odor naming is enhanced in communities where communication about odors is a central part of daily life (e.g., wine experts, flavorists, and some hunter‐gatherer groups). In this study, we investigated how expert knowledge and daily experience affect the ability to name odors in a group of experts that has not previously been investigated in this context—Iranian herbalists; also called attars—as well as cooks and laypeople. We assessed naming accuracy and consistency for 16 herb and spice odors, collected judgments of odor (...) perception, and evaluated participants' odor meta‐awareness. Participants' responses were overall more consistent and accurate for more frequent and familiar odors. Moreover, attars were more accurate than both cooks and laypeople at naming odors, although cooks did not perform significantly better than laypeople. Attars' perceptual ratings of odors and their overall odor meta‐awareness suggest they are also more attuned to odors than the other two groups. To conclude, Iranian attars—but not cooks—are better odor namers than laypeople. They also have greater meta‐awareness and differential perceptual responses to odors. These findings further highlight the critical role that expertise and type of experience have on olfactory functions. (shrink)
Recurrent lexicalization patterns across widely different cultural contexts can provide a window onto common conceptualizations. The cross-linguistic data support the idea that sweet, salt, sour, and bitter are basic tastes. In addition, umami and fatty are likely basic tastes, as well.
The human experience is shaped by information from different perceptual channels, but it is still debated whether and how differential experience influences language use. To address this, we compared congenitally blind, blindfolded, and sighted people's descriptions of the same motion events experienced auditorily by all participants (i.e., via sound alone) and conveyed in speech and gesture. Comparison of blind and sighted participants to blindfolded participants helped us disentangle the effects of a lifetime experience of being blind versus the task-specific effects (...) of experiencing a motion event by sound alone. Compared to sighted people, blind people's speech focused more on path and less on manner of motion, and encoded paths in a more segmented fashion using more landmarks and path verbs. Gestures followed the speech, such that blind people pointed to landmarks more and depicted manner less than sighted people. This suggests that visual experience affects how people express spatial events in the multimodal language and that blindness may enhance sensitivity to paths of motion due to changes in event construal. These findings have implications for the claims that language processes are deeply rooted in our sensory experiences. (shrink)
Odor and color are strongly associated. Numerous studies demonstrate consistent odor‐color associations, as well as effects of color on odor perception and language. Yet, we know little about how these associations arise. Here, we test whether language is a possible mediator of odor‐color associations, specifically whether odor‐color associations are mediated by implicit odor naming. In two experiments, we used an interference paradigm to prevent the verbalization of odors during an odor‐color matching task. If participants generate color associations subsequent to labeling (...) an odor, interfering with verbalization during the task should affect the ability to make color associations. In Experiment 1, contrary to our hypothesis, verbal interference did not affect odor‐color matches. However, since performance accuracy on the verbal interference task was high, it is possible our task did not sufficiently disrupt verbal processing. In Experiment 2, we, therefore, used an active verbal interference task, and still found no difference across interference conditions. Odor naming accuracy, odor familiarity, and odor pleasantness, however, did predict odor‐color matches. This suggests that although color associations are related to semantic factors, they are not generated by recruiting odor labels in the moment. Overall, our results do not provide evidence that language plays an online role in odor‐color associations, instead, they are consistent with the claim that language may have shaped associations during development. (shrink)
Coherent covariation appears to be a powerful explanatory factor accounting for a range of phenomena in semantic cognition. But its role in accounting for the crosslinguistic facts is less clear. Variation in naming, within the same semantic domain, raises vexing questions about the necessary parameters needed to account for the basic facts underlying categorization.
The human body is central to myriad metaphors, so studying the conceptualisation of the body itself is critical if we are to understand its broader use. One essential but understudied issue is whether languages differ in which body parts they single out for naming. This paper takes a multi-method approach to investigate body part nomenclature within a single language family. Using both a naming task and colouring-in task to collect data from six Japonic languages, we found that lexical similarity for (...) body part terminology was notably differentiated within Japonic, and similar variation was evident in semantics too. Novel application of cluster analysis on naming data revealed a relatively flat hierarchical structure for parts of the face, whereas parts of the body were organised with deeper hierarchical structure. The colouring data revealed that bounded parts show more stability across languages than unbounded parts. Overall, the data reveal there is not a single universal conceptualisation of the body as is often assumed, and that in-depth, multi-method explorations of under-studied languages are urgently required. (shrink)
At conceptual and linguistic levels of cognition, events are said to be represented in terms of abstract categories, for example, the sentence Jackie cut the bagel with a knife encodes the categories Agent (i.e., Jackie) and Patient (i.e., the bagel). In this paper, we ask whether entities such as the knife are also represented in terms of such a category (often labeled “Instrument”) and, if so, whether this category has a prototype structure. We hypothesized the Proto-instrument is a tool: a (...) physical object manipulated by an intentional agent to affect a change in another individual or object. To test this, we asked speakers of English, Dutch, and German to complete an event description task and a sentence acceptability judgment task in which events were viewed with more or less prototypical instruments. We found broad similarities in how English, Dutch, and German partition the semantic space of instrumental events, suggesting there is a shared concept of the Instrument category. However, there was no evidence to support the specific hypothesis that tools are the core of the Instrument category—instead, our results suggest the most prototypical Instrument is the direct extension of an intentional agent. This paper supports theoretical frameworks where thematic roles are analyzed in terms of prototypes and suggests new avenues of research on how instrumental category structure differs across linguistic and conceptual domains. (shrink)