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ven. 20/04/2018 Séminaire DTT - Atelier Typologie sémantique
Sylvia Tufvesson (MPI-Nijmegen)
ISH - Salle André Frossard

Language of perception in Semai

This talk will discuss linguistic resources used to encode sensory perception in Semai (Aslian, Malaysia). The semantic structure of our five sensory domains will be presented: covering different types of colour terms, strategies for capturing sound and acoustic contrast (including the use of metaphors), as well as the internal semantic structure of touch, taste and smell. We will see how speakers refer to sensory qualities in all modalities with the use of dedicated abstract vocabulary (cf. Levinson et al. 2007), i.e. descriptive terms that capture a specific domain quality, equivalent to English words such as ‘blue’, ‘rough’ or ‘musty’. With mainly abstract-based vocabularies, Semai contradicts earlier proposals that languages, generally, do not have developed abstract vocabularies for all sensory domains (cf. Stevenson and Wilson 2007).

A subset of Semai sensory terms displays a multimodal quality, an ability of a single term to denote a quality in more than one sensory domain, as e.g. slqi?k ‘pale coloured’ and ‘taste bland’ or pl??t for an irritable physical sensation, a sharp smell or a quick burst of light. Examples of such terms will also be presented. In addition to terms associated with sensory modalities, Semai offers the lexical resource of ‘expressives’, a common part of speech throughout Southeast Asia, see Diffloth (1976) and Williams (2013), and closely related to words known as ‘ideophones’ in other linguistic areas of the world (see e.g. Voeltz & Kilian-Hatz (2001). Semai expressives are specialised in detailed and vivid descriptions of events and (sensory) experiences. Special attention will be given to expressives encoding (visual) movement, and the way in which such expressives combine the three semantic dimensions of motion; Path, Manner and Figure (cf. e.g. Talmy (1975)).

Semai sensory language, both expressives and general sensory vocabulary, show a distinct structural profile. This includes special derivational categories as well as separate syntactic behaviour – formal features that will be exemplified.

Attention will also be given to the senses in Semai cultural practices, including a look at food and taste taboos and the important role of odours in Semai ritual and spiritual life (cf. Dentan 1991). These practices will be linked to the high number of, in particular, odour categories in the language.


Dentan, Robert Knox. 1999. ‘Semai-Malay Ethnobotany: Hindu Influences on the Trade in Sacred Plants’. Akass Heritage Paper Series, no. 3: 1–33.

Diffloth, Gérard. 1976. ‘Expressives in Semai’. In Austroasiatic Studies, edited by P. N. Jenner, L. C. Thompson, and S. Starosta, 1:249–64. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii.

Levinson, S. C., Majid, A., & Enfield, N. J. 2007. Language of perception: The view from language and culture. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 10-21). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

Stevenson, Richard J, and Donald A Wilson. 2007. ‘Odour Perception: An Object-Recognition Approach’. Perception 36 (12): 1821 – 1833.

Talmy, Leonard. 1975. Semantics and syntax of motion. In John Kimball (Ed.), Syntax and Semantics, vol. IV (181–238). New York: Academic Press.

Voeltz, F. K. Erhard, and Christa Kilian-Hatz, eds. 2001. Ideophones. Vol. 44. Typological Studies in Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Williams, Jeffrey P. 2013. The Aesthetics of Grammar: Sound and Meaning in the Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press.


jeu. 26/04/2018 Réunion Interne
Réunion Axe DENDY
ISH, salle E. Léger

ven. 27/04/2018 Séminaire DTT - Atelier Morphosyntaxe - Extension de la transitivité
ISH, salle Frossard

Frank Seifart (DDL) : "(Anti-)Causative marking and verb frequencies in corpora from nine languages" In this talk I will report on work-in-progress from an ongoing project carried out in collaboration with Stefan Schnell, Anna Margetts, Katja Hannß, Katharina Haude, Claudia Wegener, Sonja Riesberg, Sonja Gipper. In this project we investigate /form-frequency correspondenes /in (anti-)causative marking in verb pairs like laugh – amuse or break (intr.) – break (trans.). Haspelmath et al. (2014)predict that overt (anti-)causative marking should occur on the less frequent verb of such pairs. Such relative frequencies are used to motivate hierarchies of verb meanings, according to which, e.g., verbs like cook are expected to carry overt causative marking (e.g. Spanish /hervir /‘boil ([ntrans.]’ vs. /hacer hervir /‘boil [trans.]’) and verbs like break should most likely carry anticausative marking (e.g. Spanish /romper-se /‘break [intrans.]’ vs. /romper /‘break [trans.]’ (Haspelmath et al. 2014). We test this hypothesis using data from eight language documentation corpora of about 20,000 words each (Bora, Chipaya, Movima, Savosavo, Sudest, Totoli, Vera’a, and Yurakaré). First results suggest that for individual verb pairs, there is indeed an overwhelming tendency of overt marking on the less frequent verb form, e.g. Bora /gooco/ ‘laugh’ (frequency: 46) vs. /gooco-tso/ (laugh-causative) ‘amuse’ (frequency: 5). On the other hand, we don’t find support for previously proposed hierarchies (Haspelmath 1993, Nichols et al. 2004)of verb meanings according to the probability of taking overt (anti-)causative marking,. According to these, verbs for dry should be much more likely to carry overt causative marking than verbs for open, while in our data, it is the other way around. Haspelmath M. 1993. More on the typology of inchoative/causative verb alternations. In /Causatives and Transitivity/, eds. B Comrie, M Polinsky, 87–120. Amsterdam: Benjamins Haspelmath M, Calude A, Spagnol M, Narrog H, Bamyaci E. 2014. Coding causal–noncausal verb alternations: A form–frequency correspondence explanation. /Journal of Linguistics/. 50(3):587–625 Nichols J, Peterson DA, Barnes J. 2004. Transitivizing and detransitivizing languages. /Linguistic Typology/. 8(2):149–211

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jeu. 03/05/2018 Atelier "Méthodes" : Oscillations cérébrales
ISH - Salle Ennat Léger

ven. 04/05/2018 Séminaire DTT - Conférence
Laurent Besacier (Université de Grenoble) : Breaking the unwritten language barrier


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