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It has long been claimed that there is no lexical field of smell, and that smell is of too little validity to be expressed in grammar. We demonstrate both claims are false. The Cha'palaa language (Ecuador) has at least 15 abstract smell terms, each of which is formed using a type of classifier previously thought not to exist. Moreover, using conversational corpora we show that Cha'palaa speakers also talk about smell more than Imbabura Quechua and English speakers. Together, this shows how language and social interaction may jointly reflect distinct cultural orientations towards sensory experience in general and olfaction in particular.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

Publication Date





175 - 196