Differential coding of perception in the world's languages

Asifa Majid, Seán G. Roberts, Ludy Cilissen, Karen Emmorey, Brenda Nicodemus, Lucinda O'Grady, Bencie Woll, Barbara LeLan, Hilário De Sousa, Brian L. Cansler, Shakila Shayan, Connie De Vos, Gunter Senft, N. J. Enfield, A Razak Rogayah, Sebastian Fedden, Sylvia Tufvesson, Mark Dingemanse, Ozge Ozturk, Penelope Brown & 6 others Clair Hill, Olivier Le Guen, Vincent Hirtzel, Rik Van Gijn, Mark A. Sicoli, Stephen C. Levinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)

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 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11369-11376
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume115
Issue number45
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2018

Fingerprint

Language
Smell
Hearing
Sign Language
Touch
Linguistics
Consciousness

Keywords

  • Cross-cultural
  • Cross-linguistic
  • Ineffability
  • Language
  • Perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Cite this

Majid, A., Roberts, S. G., Cilissen, L., Emmorey, K., Nicodemus, B., O'Grady, L., ... Levinson, S. C. (2018). Differential coding of perception in the world's languages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(45), 11369-11376. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1720419115

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; Cansler, Brian L.; Shayan, Shakila; De Vos, Connie; Senft, Gunter; Enfield, N. J.; Rogayah, A Razak; Fedden, Sebastian; Tufvesson, Sylvia; Dingemanse, Mark; Ozturk, Ozge; Brown, Penelope; Hill, Clair; Le Guen, Olivier; Hirtzel, Vincent; Van Gijn, Rik; Sicoli, Mark A.; Levinson, Stephen C.

In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 115, No. 45, 06.11.2018, p. 11369-11376.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Majid, A, Roberts, SG, Cilissen, L, Emmorey, K, Nicodemus, B, O'Grady, L, Woll, B, LeLan, B, De Sousa, H, Cansler, BL, Shayan, S, De Vos, C, Senft, G, Enfield, NJ, Rogayah, AR, Fedden, S, Tufvesson, S, Dingemanse, M, Ozturk, O, Brown, P, Hill, C, Le Guen, O, Hirtzel, V, Van Gijn, R, Sicoli, MA & Levinson, SC 2018, 'Differential coding of perception in the world's languages', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 115, no. 45, pp. 11369-11376. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1720419115
Majid, Asifa ; Roberts, Seán G. ; Cilissen, Ludy ; Emmorey, Karen ; Nicodemus, Brenda ; O'Grady, Lucinda ; Woll, Bencie ; LeLan, Barbara ; De Sousa, Hilário ; Cansler, Brian L. ; Shayan, Shakila ; De Vos, Connie ; Senft, Gunter ; Enfield, N. J. ; Rogayah, A Razak ; Fedden, Sebastian ; Tufvesson, Sylvia ; Dingemanse, Mark ; Ozturk, Ozge ; Brown, Penelope ; Hill, Clair ; Le Guen, Olivier ; Hirtzel, Vincent ; Van Gijn, Rik ; Sicoli, Mark A. ; Levinson, Stephen C. / Differential coding of perception in the world's languages. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2018 ; Vol. 115, No. 45. pp. 11369-11376.
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