Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Researchers have suggested that the vocabularies of languages are oriented towards the communicative needs of language users. Here, we provide evidence demonstrating that the higher frequency of visual words in a large variety of English corpora is reflected in greater lexical differentiation—a greater number of unique words—for the visual domain in the English lexicon. In comparison, sensory modalities that are less frequently talked about, particularly taste and smell, show less lexical differentiation. In addition, we show that even though sensory language can be expected to change across historical time and between contexts of use (e.g., spoken language versus fiction), the pattern of visual dominance is a stable property of the English language. Thus, we show that across the board, precisely those semantic domains that are more frequently talked about are also more lexically differentiated, for perceptual experiences. This correlation between type and token frequencies suggests that the sensory lexicon of English is geared towards communicative efficiency.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





213 - 220