The Sound of Smell: An investigation of sound symbolism in odour naming.

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The present study investigates whether olfaction is a domain that is congruently expressible in language. Amongst a growing interest in sound symbolism and the ability of language to express qualia, the relationship between the linguistic and olfactory faculties poorly understood, with the majority of studied languages showing impoverished odour terminology. This research hopes to provide answers on the ineffability of smell: can odour qualities be represented in speech? Four phonemes, /f/, /x/, /ŋ/ and /ʔ/, are hypothesized to be potentially symbolic of olfactory disgust, due to motivations rooted in olfactory rejection responses. In a two alternative forced choice paradigm, 33 Dutch adults were asked to match 12 odours to the pseudo word they felt to be most congruent from a pair. The 12 odors were manipulated for pleasantness and edibility. Participants were found to pair unpleasant odors with words containing the! aforemen tioned phonemes more often than pleasant odours, suggesting pleasantness is the primary dimension or odour and one which is linguistically codable. No effect was found for edibility. The findings suggest a greater degree of interaction between language and olfaction than currently reported.
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