This content is archived, it could be outdated.
February 24, 2011
Many of the papers in the special issue report on languages of small speech communities, which are particularly interesting since they hint at the sensual worlds we too inhabited before the industrial age. The papers in this volume illustrate myriad categories unkown to Western social sciences.
Niclas Burenhult and Asifa Majid describe the olfactory world of the Jahai, a group of hunter-gatherers roaming the Malay Peninsula. The Jahai have an elaborate lexicon for different types of smells, a feat thought not to be possible by modern-day humans. Or consider the Semai, also from the Malay Peninsula, as described by Sylvia Tufvesson. Semai speakers use a special class of words to express graded perceptual experiences with graded linguistic representations:
vowel changes within a word can depict the specific hue of red, intensity level of an odour or size of a waterfall. Or ponder the marvelous dexterity with which Siwu speakers from Ghana can depict their precise tactile experience in the description of Mark Dingemanse.
As the editors, Asifa Majid and Stephen C.
Levinson, note, "This kind of depth of cultural understanding across multiple communities cannot be achieved by a single researcher, but requires concerted collaboration. The combination of field experiment and naturalistic observation across multiple settings allows us to establish what of perception is universally accessible to language and what is language-specific."
The individual publications can be found on the Language of Perception publications page
. Interested readers can also subscribe to a free trial at IngentaConnect
to obtain the full issue.