LINGUIST List 26.4987

Mon Nov 09 2015

Calls: Anthropological Ling, General Ling, Lang Doc, Typology/Italy

Editor for this issue: Ashley Parker <>

Date: 07-Nov-2015
From: Malika Reetz <>
Subject: Towards a Typology of Olfactory Expressions
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Full Title: Towards a Typology of Olfactory Expressions
Short Title: Olf-Exp

Date: 31-Aug-2016 - 03-Sep-2016
Location: Naples, Italy
Contact Person: Przemyslaw Staniewski
Meeting Email:

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics; General Linguistics; Language Documentation; Typology

Call Deadline: 23-Nov-2015

Meeting Description:

Cultural contexts and social environments often determine the vocabulary as well as the development of particular morpho-syntactic patterns leading to a linguistic variation and diversity across languages. A heterogeneous realization of a single linguistic category can also be observed with respect to the linguistic encoding of olfaction, which we would like to focus on in this workshop. The received wisdom has it that the terminology of olfactory expressions is generally poorly developed in Indo-European languages (cf. Cain 1979, Lawless & Engen 1977, Engen 1987, Majid & Burenhult 2014, Wnuk & Majid 2014, among many others). Recent typological research, in turn, shows that a much richer vocabulary and morpho-syntactic templates describing various odors exist in Non-Indo-European languages, cf. Burenhult & Majid (2011), Majid & Burenhult (2014), Tufvesson (2011) for Aslian languages, Lee (2010, 2015) for Formosan languages, Blench & Longtau (1995), Hombert (1992), Van Beek (1992) for different languages spoken in Africa, to name but a few. In the recent two decades, comparative approaches to odor terms identification and
categorization have gained more attention, as well, cf. e.g. Ayabe-Kanamura et al. (1998) for Japanese and German, Ibarretxe (1997) for Basque, English and Spanish or Staniewski (2013) for German and Polish. However, despite the increasing number of descriptive and comparative works a typological account of odor terms unifying their linguistic diversity is still missing. In this connection, we would like to address the question of whether it is possible to approach odor expressions across various languages and language families in a unified way, i.e. taking an approach applicable to all languages, and how we can account for their distributional properties by using a parametric model. The main objective of this workshop is to promote the discussion on olfactory expressions across (typologically (un)related) languages and, simultaneously, to figure out to what extent the linguistic diversity of odors can be brought down to a common typological denominator. The discussion is expected to provide new insights into how olfactory language systems work in general and to what extent they are determined by culture-specific factors.

Call for Papers:

We invite papers analyzing olfactory expressions from a wide range of languages, language families and linguistics areas. The aim of this workshop is to bring together linguists who work on this topic in an informal setting, which guarantees maximal interaction between researchers. Lesser-studied languages are of special interest. We place emphasis on works that have a sound empirical basis but also show a firm theoretical orientation in terms of general typological theory.

We invite short abstracts of 300 words, excluding references and examples. Abstracts should be sent to Przemysław Staniewski:

and include contact details (name, affiliation, and email address). The deadline for submissions is November 23, 2015.

Note that if your abstract has been included in the workshop and the workshop has been accepted, you will also have to prepare a full abstract (= 500 words) and submit it to be reviewed by the SLE scientific committee. The deadline for the submission of full abstracts is January 15, 2016.

Topics for the workshop include, but are not limited to, the following questions:

- What is the relationship between odor perception and odor language? Do they constitute completely independent systems? To what extent does olfactory language reflect olfactory psychophysics?

- What role do culture-specific factors play in forming olfactory categories in language (cf. Classen 1992, Low 2005)? How strong does the olfactory vocabulary depend on ethnobiological knowledge, in particular in indigenous and in non-literate communities?

- Are we able to identify so-called basic odor terms, as has been proposed by Berlin & Kay (1969) with regard to color terms (cf. Holz 2005, 2007)? What could be deemed to be their typical hallmarks?

- How is the smell lexicon structured? What do these structures (e.g. reduplications) and/or templates tell us about olfactory perception? How can olfactory gradience be expressed? Do olfactory expressions apply across multiple sensory domains or are they used exclusively with smell? Are smell terms phenomenon-oriented descriptions or do they encode smell qualities irrespective of their sources applying to different classes of objects?

- What kinds of dimensions can be identified with respect to olfactory expressions? What role do pleasantness, dangerousness, familiarity, intensity and/or edibility play? To what extent are they related to each other? How do they determine the choice of a particular smell term?

- How do olfactory expressions evolve/change? Do they shift from denoting a smell of one particular object to a more general expression (cf. Lawless et al. 1991)? Do olfactory expressions undergo a grammaticalization process and develop into functional signs?

The aim of the workshop is thus to bring together scholars working on olfactory expressions from a typological perspective, to broaden our view on their functional as well as formal properties, and - last but not least - to create an international forum focusing on a deeper and better understanding of olfactory expressions, not only in individual languages but also across typologically unrelated languages.

Selected references:

Ayabe-Kanamura S. / S. Saito / H. Distel, M. Martínez-Gómez & R. Hudson (1998):
Differences and similarities in the perception of everyday odors. A Japanese-German
cross-cultural study, in: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 855: 694 700.
Blench, Roger & Selbut R. Longtau (1995): Tarok ophresiology. An investigation into the
Tarok terminology of odours, in: Issues in African Languages and Linguistics: Essays in
Honour of Kay Williamson ed. by E. 'Nolue Emenanjo & Ozo-mekuri Ndimele, 340-343.
Aba, Nigeria.
Burenhult, Niclas & Asifa Majid (2011): Olfaction in Aslian ideology and language, in: The
Senses & Society 6: 19 29.
Cain, W. S. (1979): To know with the nose: Keys to odor identification, in: Science 203: 467
Classen, Constanze (1992): The odor of the other: Olfactory symbolism and cultural
categories, in: Ethos 20: 133 166.
Ibarretxe Antuñano, Iraide (1997): Smelling and perception. A cross-linguistic study, in:
Cuadernos de Filología Inglesa 612: 113 121.
Lawless, Harry & T. Engen (1977): Associations to odors: Interference, mnemonics, and
verbal labeling, in: Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 3,
Lawless, Harry T. / Sandy Glatter & Christina Hohn (1991): Context-dependent changes in
the perception of odor quality, in: Chemical Senses 16: 349 360.
Lee, Amy Pei-jung (2010): Reduplication and odor in four Formosan languages, in:
Language & Linguistics 11: 99-126.
Lee, Amy Pei-Jung (2015): Lexical categories and conceptualization of olfaction in Amis,
in: Language and Cognition 7: 321 350.
Low, Kelvin (2005): Ruminations on smell as a sociocultural phenomenon, in: Current
Sociology 53: 397 417.
Majid, Asifa & Niclas Burenhult (2014): Odors are expressible in language, as long as you
speak the right language, in: Cognition 130: 266-270.
Staniewski, Przemyslaw (2013): Das Unantastbare beschreiben. Gerüche und ihre
Versprachlichung in Anlehnung an die thematischen Korpora des Deutschen und des
Polnischen mit Berücksichtigung ausgewählter Textgruppen. PhD thesis, University of
Tufvesson, Sylvia (2011): Analogy making in the Semai sensory world, in: Senses &
Society 6: 86 95.
Van Beek, Walter E. A. (1992): The dirty smith: smell as a social frontier among the
Kapsiki/Higi of North Cameroon and North-Eastern Nigeria, in: Africa: Journal of the
International African Institute 62: 38-58.
Wnuk, Ewelina & Asifa Majid (2014): Revisiting the limits of language: The odor lexicon of
Maniq, in: Cognition 131: 125-138.

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