LINGUIST List 24.2864|
Mon Jul 15 2013
Review: Cognitive Science; Semantics; Sociolinguistics: Aikhenvald & Storch (2013)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
From: Thiago Chacon <thiago_chaconhotmail.com>
Subject: Perception and Cognition in Language and Culture
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-489.html
EDITOR: Alexandra Y Aikhenvald
EDITOR: Anne Storch
TITLE: Perception and Cognition in Language and Culture
SERIES TITLE: Brill's Studies in Language, Cognition and Culture
REVIEWER: Thiago Costa Chacon, University of California, Santa Barbara
This volume focuses on descriptive and functional-typological issues of how
languages code perception and cognition in the lexicon, grammar and discourse.
It is the outcome of an international interdisciplinary workshop, “Migration
of Ideas”, held at University of Cologne in 2010. The book has a substantial
introduction by the editors plus nine chapters contributing original data and
analysis from languages in three distinct regions of the world: West Papua and
New Guinea, South America, and Africa, the latter represented by six chapters.
A diverse set of contributions treat two main theoretical questions:
(1) lexicalization patterns of perception verbs, their grammatical nuances,
and the semantic complexity of different domains of perception and cognition
(cf. Viberg 1983, Sweetser 1990, Evans and Wilkins 2000);
(2) evidentiality, mirativity, and modality (cf. Chafe and Nichols 1986,
DeLancey 1997, 2001, 2012, Aikhenvald 2004, 2012).
Seven chapters address primarily (1), while (2) is the main concern of
Chapters 3 and 4, and to a lesser extent Chapter 2. Cognition is discussed
with regards to verbs denoting cognitive processes and emotions, but more
often it comes up as a secondary issue arising from its relationship to
perception verbs, mirativity and evidentiality. Culture is discussed in the
points of correlation between social norms, worldview, and pragmatic
principles concerning the linguistics of perception and cognition.
I assess each chapter individually, followed by an overall evaluation.
Chapter 1: Linguistic expression of perception and cognition: a typological
Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald and Anne Storch.
This forty-page introduction surveys different frameworks for investigating
perception in languages and its correlation with cognition and culture, with a
rich, diverse discussion of different types of data. Section 1 anticipates key
issues that are treated in the book and sets the relativistic spirit and
typological orientation of the book, illustrated by a citation from Franz Boas
(1938: 132) that “languages differ not in what one can say but rather in what
kind of information must be stated”.
Section 2 discusses how evidentiality, mirativity and other grammatical means
for coding information source, types of information and types of knowledge.
The relevance of perception to evidentiality is highlighted by systems in
which a “visual evidential” contrasts with a “non-visual evidential” and the
case of evidentials dedicated exclusively to one particular modality of
perception other than vision (p. 7), despite the fact that in most languages
it is actually firsthand vs. non-firsthand information source that forms the
basic semantic opposition. Subsection 2.2 focuses on the coding of information
source through other grammatical means, mainly demonstratives. Cognition comes
into discussions of mirativity (defined as a way to express a type of
information that is surprising or new to the speaker or hearer’s unprepared
mind), information source, and as a by-product of epistemic extensions of some
evidentials (e.g. degrees of certainty), a fact that recalls earlier insights
into evidentiality as an ''attitude toward knowledge'' (Chafe 1986).
Section 3 deals with the lexical expression of perception and cognition. It
offers informative cross-linguistic discussions about verbs referring to the
five traditional sensory-perception modalities: seeing, hearing, touching,
smelling and tasting. An excellent summary of the semantic complexity and
polysemy of verbs of perception and cognition is presented along with an
overview of how context and grammar can frame the function of these verbs. The
section also discusses how languages code perception and cognition by means
other than verbs, such as by body part terms, ideophones and discourse
practices, which serve as link between the linguistic perspective of
perception and cognition and culture. Culture is centrally discussed in
Section 4, which explores how cultural norms from different societies treat
the different senses in everyday social interactions, knowledge systems, and
cosmological beliefs, highlighting the importance of seeing/eye versus
hearing/ear and perceiving/body in different cultures and languages.
The heart of the chapter, though, lies in the discussion of the main
typological studies of perception verbs: Viberg (1983), Sweetser (1990), and
Evans and Wilkins (2000). Following the seminal work of Evans and Wilkins
(2000), the authors show several cases that contradict Sweetser’s claim that
“vision -- rather than other senses -- is the only source of semantic
extensions from perception to cognition” (p. 21).
With regard to Viberg’s typological investigation, two main points of
criticism are highlighted: (1) Viberg’s three typological parameters for the
typology of perception verbs (ACTIVITY-CONTROLLED, EXPERIENCE-UNCONTROLLED and
COPULATIVE/STATE) are criticized as being often “a corollary of the
construction in which one single lexeme is used” (p. 20). Despite the fact
that the authors’ claims are empirically well grounded, they do not, in fact,
invalidate Viberg’s parameters, which can capture important cross-linguistic
lexical distinctions (e.g., ‘listen to’ [activity-controlled] vs. ‘hear’
[experience-uncontrolled]) and grammatical implications (e.g., ‘he is looking
at/*seeing the birds’ [‘look at’ = activity; ‘see’ = experience]). (2)
Viberg’s claim of the unidirectionality of intrafield extensions yielded by
the hierarchy SEE > HEAR > TOUCH > SMELL/TASTE is regarded as being weakened
by “a dubious assumption of intrafield polysemies” (p. 20) and falsified by
counterexamples. Instead of endorsing traditional concepts such as “polysemy”
and the opposition between “intrafield” (i.e. across different perception
domains) versus “transfield” (from perception to cognition) semantic
extensions, the authors suggest as an alternative the intentionally vague
terms of “meaning complex” and “semantic systems”. This seems to work well for
cases of generic verbs such as ‘to perceive’, which cover multiple perception
and cognitive domains, but it may be less useful when diachronic or synchronic
data can elucidate a basic or prototypical meaning, and corresponding paths of
semantic extensions. Reported case as counterexamples to Viberg’s “intrafield”
semantic extensions are Maslova (2004) and Chapter 7 of this volume.
In the conclusion, the rich and diverse lexical system of sensory-perception
expression is contrasted with the more limited closed grammatical system of
evidentiality, suggesting few common threads between the two. Observations
about the cultural motivations underlying the ranking of vision or hearing as
culturally more important are accompanied by complex generalizations on the
correlation between language and culture. The concluding words point out that
“no ‘hierarchy’ of senses is universal” (p. 37), i.e., that each of the five
senses can be primary and preferential according to different linguistic and
Chapter 2. Knowing, smelling and telling tales in Luwo,
This chapter provides an overview of different lexical, grammatical and
discourse phenomena related to perception and cognition in Luwo, Southern
Sudan. It describes a small evidential system that contrasts firsthand and
non-firsthand information source. The semantic overtone of non-firsthand
evidential is interpreted as a type of inference. Perception is presented as a
diverse lexical phenomenon which, in addition to the verbs expressing the five
sensory means of perception, also covers an array of smell terms analyzed as
an independent word class and a list of verbs related to fine-grained nuances
in the perception of taste. Moving to cognition, Luwo has a dedicated ‘know’
verb. This verb’s derived stem refers to olfactory perception when it occurs
in a sort of middle verb construction involving an anticausative derivation.
The correlation of ‘know’ with ‘smell’ contradicts the general tendency in the
language for cognition to be expressed by other, polysemous verbs with a high
degree of agentivity and telicity based in visual experiences (e.g. ‘see’,
‘find out’, ‘detect’, ‘realize’, ‘discover’). This correlation is also unusual
typologically. The chapter closes with an eloquent analysis of ideophones in
narrative contexts; in Luwo, ideophones mostly refer to things one can see;
they are both an important tool for storytellers and important resources in
the transmission of cultural knowledge.
3. Source of information and unexpected information in !Xun -- evidential,
and counterexpectation markers,
This chapter describes four non-obligatory clitics coding evidentiality,
mirativity and counter-expectation in !Xun, a fairly isolating Central Khoisan
language. Evidentials contrast firsthand versus non-firsthand information, the
latter including overtones of inference, assumption, modality and even
mirativity. The mirativity marker is used when the speaker expects that what
is being stated will cause surprise to the addressee; it is also used to
highlight the main point within a narrative. The counter-expectation marker
has a function that is ambiguous between mood and a deontic modality; it is
structurally similar to the imperative mood construction and expresses the
idea that the situation presented by an utterance should not be taking place.
Markers of evidentiality, mirativity and counter-expectation occur in the
modality slot of !Xun verbs, where one also finds epistemic and deontic
modals. These facts, along with the optionality of the entire system and the
overlapping semantics and syntax with modality and mood, suggest that
evidentiality, mirativity and counter-expectation bear a very close
relationship to mood and modality in the language. This supports König’s
initial statement that the !Xun system encodes “aspects of information”, a
broader and welcomed perspective that allows for a more holistic treatment of
cognition and grammar.
4. A Quechuan mirative?,
Willem F.H. Adelaar
This chapter provides a comprehensive analysis of mirativity in Tarma Quechua
and related languages. Markers coding mirativity are part of the tense
paradigm, though “this is related to grammatical organization, rather than to
genuine temporal semantics” (p. 100). Mirativity in Tarma Quechua is similar
to the same category in !Xun (Chapter 3) in the sense it codes new or
unexpected information for the addressee and not necessarily for the speaker.
It can be combined with any aspectual category, as well as with the
“certainty” and “reported” evidentials, but never with the “conjectural”
evidential since “mirativity refers to facts or events that are not in doubt”
(p. 103). Mirativity cannot be combined with negation in Tarma Quechua, just
like aspect morphemes, which do not co-occur with negation. There are complex
grammatical interactions between the category of mirativity and the semantic
focus on the addressee. This leads Adelaar to ask whether the Tarma Quechua
mirative should be equated with the miratives described elsewhere in the
typological literature or whether it should be analyzed as a different
category. Resemblances between the Quechua and !Xun miratives (Chapter 3)
point to a need for refining the definition of mirativity
5. Seeing, hearing and thinking in Korowai, a language of West Papua,
This chapter analyzes the linguistics of perception and cognition in Korowai,
a non-Austronesian language of West Papua. It focuses on how Korowai speakers
can communicate about events of seeing, hearing, thinking and inner states,
and contextualizes perception and cognition within the lexicon, grammar and
culture. De Vries highlights the Korowai view of the “opacity of the mind of
others” (p. 117) and relates this to the behavior of perception verbs, their
extensions into the domain of cognition, and the different lexical and
grammatical ways that speakers can talk about thinking and emotional inner
states. There is one verb for hearing and another for seeing, and both code
controlled and uncontrolled ‘seeing/looking’ and ‘hearing/listening’. They
also code meanings related to the social domain (e.g., ‘watch over’, ‘pay
attention’) and cognition (e.g., ‘know’, especially in perfective/resultative
aspect), provided the object of the verb is visible or audible. ‘Thinking’
(including emotional inner states) as a controlled event takes
intestine-related idioms and a verb referring to ‘shoot, plant, insert’. The
verb ‘say’ is also used to refer to controlled thinking in quotative
constructions, often accompanied by idioms referring to guts, gall and
intestines. Uncontrolled thinking is expressed through a copula/inchoative
verb and intestine-related nouns; syntactically, the “thinking person” is
demoted to an experiencer role in non-subject function.
6. Perception and cognition in Manambu, a Papuan language from New Guinea,
Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald
Aikhenvald presents a clear and thorough grammatical and semantic analysis of
the linguistics of perception and cognition in Manambu, an Ndu language of New
Guinea. Two verbs of perception are discussed: ‘seeing’, which also codes
‘look, taste, experience, try, read’; and ‘hearing’, which also refers to
‘listen, smell, obey, think about, worry, remember’. There is also a more
specialized ‘touch’ verb, and two cognition verbs: ‘understand, know’ and
‘think that X, have an opinion’. The locus of cognitive and emotional
activities or states is the “inside” (i.e. ‘core, liver, bone marrow’, etc.).
Cognition and perception verbs are analyzed as a special class of verbs.
Sub-meanings within seeing and hearing verbs are analyzed on the basis of
grammatical frames, such as case markings, imperatives, directional,
reduplication and combination with body parts (eye and ear). On the basis of
grammatical and semantic distinctions, Aikhenvald analyzes ‘sight’ as the
basic meaning of the polysemous seeing verb, but the verb referring to hearing
is treated as more complex and no basic meaning can be distinguished between
perception and cognition, contrary to the rationale of semantic extensions in
the typological literature. Aikhenvald concludes that ‘seeing’ is actually a
special lexeme, given its semantic uniqueness when compared to hearing and
other verbs in that language, which tend to have a generic meaning. She
suggests that the uniqueness of ‘seeing’ has analogues in Manambu culture,
where sight is marked as a source of power and threat.
7. From body to knowledge: perception and cognition in Khwe-||Ani (Central
Matthias Brenzinger and Anne Maria Fehn
This chapter explores the semantics of perception verbs in three closely
related Khoisan languages, Kwe, ||Ani and T’sixa, and further compares them
with other neighboring and related languages. The chapter provides an
elaborate connection between language and culture, and an interesting debate
about the typology of perception and cognition. Kwe-||Ani has verbs covering
the entire set of perception modalities: specific verbs referring to ‘see’ and
to ‘hear’ and another verb referring to the other sensorial modalities,
‘taste; smell; touch’. This verb is analyzed as a generic verb, with a
principle meaning “perceive food”, but with extensions into internal and
external feeling, “covering a mode of perception that is essentially
‘holistic’” (p. 162). The intrafield extensions of this verb are analyzed as
being from ‘taste’ to ‘smell’ and ‘touch’, contradicting Viberg’s (1983)
hierarchy, where one would expect the ‘smell’ verb to extend to ‘taste’. While
all verbs of perception can extend into the cognitive domain, usually through
serial verb constructions with the verb ‘know’, the verb referring to ‘smell;
taste; touch’ is seen as having primacy over the other perception verb in
transfield extensions. The authors argue that the primacy of ‘smell; taste;
touch’ in perception and cognition is strongly related to a holistic cultural
and linguistic understanding of “body-perception” and “perception of the
world” (i.e. knowledge and cognition) in Khoeid cultures. This is found in
other domains of the language of cognition as well; for example, the verb “to
know” also refers to “forehead”.
8. Perception verbs and their semantics in Dongolawi (Nile Nubian),
Jakobi and El-Shafie El-Guzuuli
This chapter focuses on the description of the lexical expression of
perception verbs and their extensions into cognitive and social domains in
Dongolawi, a language spoken in the Nile Valley in Northwen Sudan. Closely
following Viberg’s (1983) typology, the authors illustrate how the five
sensory perception modalities are lexicalized by different verbs as predicates
that code activity-oriented, experience-oriented and phenomenon-oriented
expressions of perception. Attention is also given to how different
grammatical frames condition the meaning of perception verbs. While seeing is
the sole perceptual predicate with semantic extension into the cognitive
domain (‘seeing’ can refer to ‘examining, checking, finding out, thinking
about’), the language includes a more diverse and specialized set of cognition
9. Excite your senses -- glances into the field of perception and cognition
Gertrud Schneider-Blum and Gerrit J. Dimmendaal
This chapter discusses the meaning and grammar of perception and cognition
verbs in Tima, an endangered language spoken in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan.
The authors explore the different ranges of meanings of perception verbs
following Viberg’s (1983) typological parameters. The language has verbs
denoting each of the five modalities of sensory perception. These verbs do not
form a special lexical subclass. The authors pay careful attention to the
grammatical differences between each verb and in the grammatical processes
involved in the semantic extensions of perception verbs, such as the use of a
high-transitivity marker, ideophones, pluractionality, instrumental
constructions, antipassive, telicity, tense/aspect and constituent order. The
verb ‘see’ may also refer to ‘watching, looking, taking care of, considering;
the verb ‘hear’ may also refer to ‘listening, sounding, obeying’. The language
also has dedicated lexical items referring to touching, tasting and smelling.
Cognition is expressed by independent verbs, specifically ‘think’ and
cognitive extensions of the verb ‘find’, such as ‘discovering, remember,
understanding, knowing, being acquainted with’.
10. Perception in Lussese (Bantu, J10),
This chapter discusses perception as a holistic cultural and linguistic
phenomenon in Lussese, an endangered Bantu language spoken in Uganda.
Thanassoula shows that the verb “hear” has a rich polysemy, coding ‘hearing’
and ‘feeling/perceiving’, including tastes, odors, emotions and cognition
(e.g., ‘understand’). More specifically, olfactory and gustatory perception is
coded by the same set of verbs, which also code uncertainty on future matters
and personal tastes (e.g., ‘like’). The verbs of visual perception are more
restricted in meaning than the verb of auditory perception, but Thanassoula
uses evidence from the rich terminology and detailed cultural evaluation of
color terms to argue that the visual domain of perception should not be
rendered as less complex than the auditory domain. In the conclusion, the
author raises important questions about the methodology of linguistic
description and typology, such as the validity of semantic hierarchies of
senses and the assignment of a basic meaning for verbs with holistic
This book is an important contribution to deeper understanding of the
linguistic expression of sensory perception and its correlation with cognition
and culture. It brings fresh and diverse questions and approaches that in due
time will help refine and expand previous research. The high points for me, as
a descriptive linguist, are the following:
(i) A holistic approach to perception and cognition as a multimodal and fluid
phenomenon, which allows for an analysis of perception as it is lexicalized in
different terminological systems (such as ideophones, color terms, terms for
different tastes and textures, etc.) and in multiple grammatical nuances.
(ii) The relevance of emotions and inner states to the description of
perception and cognition in different languages, suggesting a pattern that is
central to expanding the discussion of perception and cognition.
(iii) The presentation of data that suggest extensions from perception to
cognition from heterodox sensory modalities, such as ‘smell’ (chapter 2) and
‘taste’ (chapter 7), as well as unusual intrafield extensions, such as from
‘taste’ to ‘smell’ (chapter 7).
(iv) The use of cultural practice and worldview as explanatory bases for
correlations between the lexicalization patterns and grammatical behavior of
perception and cognition verbs, suggesting that in addition to transfield
semantic extensions of perception to cognition (cf. Evans and Wilkins 2000),
intrafield extensions and the semantic complexity of perception terms are also
related to cultural standards (especially Chapters 2, 5, 6, 7 and 10).
The book provides potentially rich directions for the description and typology
of perception and cognition, but it was not meant to provide a single,
programmatic framework. Rather its best quality is the diversity of approaches
for descriptive and typological investigation of sensory perception and its
expression in the lexicon, grammar and discourse. It is also a valuable
resource for anyone interested in learning from ongoing explorations into the
interconnectedness of perception, cognition and culture. Chapter 1 gives the
whole book coherence by highlighting research questions one faces when
analyzing the linguistic expression of perception and cognition in individual
languages, as well as the challenges surrounding the typology of perception
verbs. Most of the descriptive chapters in this volume are centered on similar
descriptive and functional-typological concerns, although they all present
different methods and perspectives. Ultimately, this positively reflects
distinct alternative approaches.
As the editors say throughout Chapter 1, typological investigation into the
realm of perception and cognition is still in its early stages, and providing
a clear-cut correlation between grammar, lexicon and culture is a complex
task. This has certainly motivated the non-systematic, albeit original, highly
informative and provocative typological and theoretical perspectives that we
find throughout the book. Some books set frames, others expand them. The
present book clearly belongs to the latter kind.
Aikhenvald, A. 2004. Evidentiality. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.
____. 2012. The essence of Mirativity. Linguistic Typology 16: 435-85.
Boas, Franz. 1938. Language. In General Anthropology, Franz Boas (ed.).
Boston, New York: DC Heath. 124-45.
Chafe, W. 1986. Evidentiality in English conversation and academic writing. In
Evidentiality: the linguistic coding of epistemology, ed. by Wallace Chafe and
Johanna Nichols. Norwood, New Jersey: Alex Publishing. 261-72.
Chafe, W. and Nichols, J. 1986. Evidentiality: the linguistic coding of
epistemology. Alex Publishing: Norwood, New Jersey.
DeLancey, S. 1997. Mirativity: The grammatical marking of unexpected
information. Linguistic Typology 1: 33-52.
____. 2001. The mirative and evidentiality. Journal of Pragmatics 3: 371-84.
____. 2012. Still mirativity after all these years. Linguistic Typology 16:
Evans, N. and D. Wilkins. 2000. In the mind’s ear: the semantic extensions of
perception verbs in Australian languages. Language 76: 546-92.
Sweetser, Eve. 1990. From Etymology to Pragmatics. Metaphorical and Cultural
Aspects of Semantic Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Viberg, Åke. 1983. Verbs of perception: a typological study. Linguistics 21:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Thiago Chacon is a linguist working on Amazonian languages. His research
focuses on language description and typology, lexicography and
historical-comparative linguistics. He has been involved with language
documentation and conservation among Tukanoan languages in the Northwest
Amazon and more recently on Yanomami languages.
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