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Olfactory language and abstraction across cultures

Majid, Asifa; Burenhult, Niclas LU ; Stensmyr, Marcus LU ; de Valk, Josje and Hansson, Bill S. (2018) In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 373(1752).
Abstract
Olfaction presents a particularly interesting arena to explore abstraction in language. Like other abstract domains, such as time, odours can be difficult to conceptualize. An odour cannot be seen or held, it can be difficult to locate in space, and for most people odours are difficult to verbalize. On the other hand, odours give rise to primary sensory experiences. Every time we inhale we are using olfaction to make sense of our environment. We present new experimental data from 30 Jahai huntergatherers from the Malay Peninsula and 30 matched Dutch participants from the Netherlands in an odour naming experiment. Participants smelled monomolecular odorants and named odours while reaction times, odour descriptors, and facial expressions... (More)
Olfaction presents a particularly interesting arena to explore abstraction in language. Like other abstract domains, such as time, odours can be difficult to conceptualize. An odour cannot be seen or held, it can be difficult to locate in space, and for most people odours are difficult to verbalize. On the other hand, odours give rise to primary sensory experiences. Every time we inhale we are using olfaction to make sense of our environment. We present new experimental data from 30 Jahai huntergatherers from the Malay Peninsula and 30 matched Dutch participants from the Netherlands in an odour naming experiment. Participants smelled monomolecular odorants and named odours while reaction times, odour descriptors, and facial expressions were measured. We show that while Dutch speakers relied on concrete descriptors, i.e. they referred to odour sources (e.g. smells like lemon), the Jahai used abstract vocabulary to name the same odours (e.g. musty). Despite this differential linguistic categorization, analysis of facial expressions showed that the two groups, nevertheless, had the same initial emotional reactions to odours. Critically, these cross-linguistic data present a challenge for how to think about abstraction in language. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
olfaction, culture, language, abstract, Jahai, Dutch
in
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
volume
373
issue
1752
publisher
Royal Society
external identifiers
  • scopus:85048749048
ISSN
0800-4622
DOI
10.1098/rstb.2017.0139
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
08ed3446-0f46-458f-856d-767fcb9ced4a
date added to LUP
2017-11-11 09:31:29
date last changed
2018-10-03 11:32:19
@article{08ed3446-0f46-458f-856d-767fcb9ced4a,
  abstract     = {Olfaction presents a particularly interesting arena to explore abstraction in language. Like other abstract domains, such as time, odours can be difficult to conceptualize. An odour cannot be seen or held, it can be difficult to locate in space, and for most people odours are difficult to verbalize. On the other hand, odours give rise to primary sensory experiences. Every time we inhale we are using olfaction to make sense of our environment. We present new experimental data from 30 Jahai huntergatherers from the Malay Peninsula and 30 matched Dutch participants from the Netherlands in an odour naming experiment. Participants smelled monomolecular odorants and named odours while reaction times, odour descriptors, and facial expressions were measured. We show that while Dutch speakers relied on concrete descriptors, i.e. they referred to odour sources (e.g. smells like lemon), the Jahai used abstract vocabulary to name the same odours (e.g. musty). Despite this differential linguistic categorization, analysis of facial expressions showed that the two groups, nevertheless, had the same initial emotional reactions to odours. Critically, these cross-linguistic data present a challenge for how to think about abstraction in language.},
  author       = {Majid, Asifa and Burenhult, Niclas and Stensmyr, Marcus and de Valk, Josje and Hansson, Bill S.},
  issn         = {0800-4622},
  keyword      = {olfaction,culture,language,abstract,Jahai,Dutch},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {06},
  number       = {1752},
  publisher    = {Royal Society},
  series       = {Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences},
  title        = {Olfactory language and abstraction across cultures},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0139},
  volume       = {373},
  year         = {2018},
}