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      Revisiting the limits of language: the odor lexicon of Maniq.

      1 , 2

      Cognition

      Aslian, Cross-cultural, Maniq, Olfaction, Olfactory naming, Perceptual language

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          Abstract

          It is widely believed that human languages cannot encode odors. While this is true for English, and other related languages, data from some non-Western languages challenge this view. Maniq, a language spoken by a small population of nomadic hunter-gatherers in southern Thailand, is such a language. It has a lexicon of over a dozen terms dedicated to smell. We examined the semantics of these smell terms in 3 experiments (exemplar listing, similarity judgment and off-line rating). The exemplar listing task confirmed that Maniq smell terms have complex meanings encoding smell qualities. Analyses of the similarity data revealed that the odor lexicon is coherently structured by two dimensions. The underlying dimensions are pleasantness and dangerousness, as verified by the off-line rating study. Ethnographic data illustrate that smell terms have detailed semantics tapping into broader cultural constructs. Contrary to the widespread view that languages cannot encode odors, the Maniq data show odor can be a coherent semantic domain, thus shedding new light on the limits of language.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          Cognition
          Cognition
          1873-7838
          0010-0277
          Apr 2014
          : 131
          : 1
          Affiliations
          [1 ] Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, P.O. Box 310, 6500 AH Nijmegen, The Netherlands; International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, P.O. Box 310, 6500 AH Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Electronic address: ewelina.wnuk@mpi.nl.
          [2 ] Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, P.O. Box 310, 6500 AH Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University, P.O. Box 9103, 6500 HD Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, P.O. Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Electronic address: asifa.majid@let.ru.nl.
          Article
          S0010-0277(13)00252-7
          10.1016/j.cognition.2013.12.008
          24462926
          Copyright © 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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