Advanced

Differential coding of perception in the world's languages

Majid, Asifa ; Roberts, Seán G. ; Cilissen, Ludy ; Emmorey, Karen ; Nicodemus, Brenda ; O'Grady, Lucinda ; Woll, Bencie ; LeLan, Barbara ; De Sousa, Hilário and Cansler, Brian L. , et al. (2018) In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115(45). p.11369-11376
Abstract

Is there a universal hierarchy of the senses, such that some senses (e.g., vision) are more accessible to consciousness and linguistic description than others (e.g., smell)? The long-standing presumption in Western thought has been that vision and audition are more objective than the other senses, serving as the basis of knowledge and understanding, whereas touch, taste, and smell are crude and of little value. This predicts that humans ought to be better at communicating about sight and hearing than the other senses, and decades of work based on English and related languages certainly suggests this is true. However, how well does this reflect the diversity of languages and communities worldwide? To test whether there is a universal... (More)

Is there a universal hierarchy of the senses, such that some senses (e.g., vision) are more accessible to consciousness and linguistic description than others (e.g., smell)? The long-standing presumption in Western thought has been that vision and audition are more objective than the other senses, serving as the basis of knowledge and understanding, whereas touch, taste, and smell are crude and of little value. This predicts that humans ought to be better at communicating about sight and hearing than the other senses, and decades of work based on English and related languages certainly suggests this is true. However, how well does this reflect the diversity of languages and communities worldwide? To test whether there is a universal hierarchy of the senses, stimuli from the five basic senses were used to elicit descriptions in 20 diverse languages, including 3 unrelated sign languages. We found that languages differ fundamentally in which sensory domains they linguistically code systematically, and how they do so. The tendency for better coding in some domains can be explained in part by cultural preoccupations. Although languages seem free to elaborate specific sensory domains, some general tendencies emerge: for example, with some exceptions, smell is poorly coded. The surprise is that, despite the gradual phylogenetic accumulation of the senses, and the imbalances in the neural tissue dedicated to them, no single hierarchy of the senses imposes itself upon language.

(Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
, et al. (More)
(Less)
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Cross-cultural, Cross-linguistic, Ineffability, Language, Perception
in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
volume
115
issue
45
pages
8 pages
publisher
National Acad Sciences
external identifiers
  • scopus:85056098723
  • pmid:30397135
ISSN
0027-8424
DOI
10.1073/pnas.1720419115
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
5e4dd0a0-a4fb-4d52-add4-3fdae83889f1
date added to LUP
2018-11-22 10:07:24
date last changed
2020-04-02 02:12:28
@article{5e4dd0a0-a4fb-4d52-add4-3fdae83889f1,
  abstract     = {<p>Is there a universal hierarchy of the senses, such that some senses (e.g., vision) are more accessible to consciousness and linguistic description than others (e.g., smell)? The long-standing presumption in Western thought has been that vision and audition are more objective than the other senses, serving as the basis of knowledge and understanding, whereas touch, taste, and smell are crude and of little value. This predicts that humans ought to be better at communicating about sight and hearing than the other senses, and decades of work based on English and related languages certainly suggests this is true. However, how well does this reflect the diversity of languages and communities worldwide? To test whether there is a universal hierarchy of the senses, stimuli from the five basic senses were used to elicit descriptions in 20 diverse languages, including 3 unrelated sign languages. We found that languages differ fundamentally in which sensory domains they linguistically code systematically, and how they do so. The tendency for better coding in some domains can be explained in part by cultural preoccupations. Although languages seem free to elaborate specific sensory domains, some general tendencies emerge: for example, with some exceptions, smell is poorly coded. The surprise is that, despite the gradual phylogenetic accumulation of the senses, and the imbalances in the neural tissue dedicated to them, no single hierarchy of the senses imposes itself upon language.</p>},
  author       = {Majid, Asifa and Roberts, Seán G. and Cilissen, Ludy and Emmorey, Karen and Nicodemus, Brenda and O'Grady, Lucinda and Woll, Bencie and LeLan, Barbara and De Sousa, Hilário and Cansler, Brian L. and Shayan, Shakila and De Vos, Connie and Senft, Gunter and Enfield, N. J. and Razak, Rogayah A. and Fedden, Sebastian and Tufvesson, Sylvia and Dingemanse, Mark and Ozturk, Ozge and Brown, Penelope and Hill, Clair and Le Guen, Olivier and Hirtzel, Vincent and Van Gijn, Rik and Sicoli, Mark A. and Levinson, Stephen C.},
  issn         = {0027-8424},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {11},
  number       = {45},
  pages        = {11369--11376},
  publisher    = {National Acad Sciences},
  series       = {Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America},
  title        = {Differential coding of perception in the world's languages},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1720419115},
  doi          = {10.1073/pnas.1720419115},
  volume       = {115},
  year         = {2018},
}