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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.