The way people describe percepts can vary in surprising ways across cultures. In cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, we explore the cross-linguistic variation in the Language of Perception.
We have a special focus on the language of smell, thanks to a NWO VICI grant “Human olfaction at the intersection of language, culture and biology”. It has been claimed that people find it difficult to talk about smells and that languages lack dedicated smell vocabularies. Our data challenge this claim, demonstrating this limitation is not true of all communities.
We pursue our investigations in around the world, working with people speaking genetically diverse languages: from nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Malay Peninsula (Jahai, Maniq, Semaq Beri), through former hunter-gatherers turned fishermen-and-traders in Mexico (Seri), swidden agriculturalists in Malaysia (Semelai), subsistence farmers in Papua New Guinea (Duna) and Nigeria (Kuteb), to urban dwellers in Cameroon (Douala), Hong Kong and Macau (Cantonese).