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The challenge of olfactory ideophones: Reconsidering ineffability from the Totonac-Tepehua perspective.

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O’Meara, C., Kung, S. S., & Majid, A. (2019). The challenge of olfactory ideophones: Reconsidering ineffability from the Totonac-Tepehua perspective. International Journal of American Linguistics, 85(2), 173-212. doi:10.1086/701801.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-5779-4
Abstract
Olfactory impressions are said to be ineffable, but little systematic exploration has been done to substantiate this. We explored olfactory language in Huehuetla Tepehua—a Totonac-Tepehua language spoken in Hidalgo, Mexico—which has a large inventory of ideophones, words with sound-symbolic properties used to describe perceptuomotor experiences. A multi-method study found Huehuetla Tepehua has 45 olfactory ideophones, illustrating intriguing sound-symbolic alternation patterns. Elaboration in the olfactory domain is not unique to this language; related Totonac-Tepehua languages also have impressive smell lexicons. Comparison across these languages shows olfactory and gustatory terms overlap in interesting ways, mirroring the physiology of smelling and tasting. However, although cognate taste terms are formally similar, olfactory terms are less so. We suggest the relative instability of smell vocabulary in comparison with those of taste likely results from the more varied olfactory experiences caused by the mutability of smells in different environments.