Taste in twenty cultures [Abstract]

Majid, A. (2012). Taste in twenty cultures [Abstract]. Abstracts from the XXIth Congress of European Chemoreception Research Organization, ECRO-2011. Publ. in Chemical Senses, 37(3), A10.
Scholars disagree about the extent to which language can tell us about conceptualisation of the world. Some believe that language is a direct window onto concepts: Having a word ‘‘bird’’, ‘‘table’’ or ‘‘sour’’ presupposes the corresponding underlying concept, BIRD, TABLE, SOUR. Others disagree. Words are thought to be uninformative, or worse, misleading about our underlying conceptual representations; after all, our mental worlds are full of ideas that we struggle to express in language. How could this be so, argue sceptics, if language were a direct window on our inner life? In this presentation, I consider what language can tell us about the conceptualisation of taste. By considering linguistic data from twenty unrelated cultures – varying in subsistence mode (huntergatherer to industrial), ecological zone (rainforest jungle to desert), dwelling type (rural and urban), and so forth – I argue any single language is, indeed, impoverished about what it can reveal about taste. But recurrent lexicalisation patterns across languages can provide valuable insights about human taste experience. Moreover, language patterning is part of the data that a good theory of taste perception has to be answerable for. Taste researchers, therefore, cannot ignore the crosslinguistic facts.
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