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Multiple social science disciplines have converged on the senses in recent years, where formerly the domain of perception was the preserve of psychology. Linguistics, or Language, however, seems to have an ambivalent role in this undertaking. On the one hand, Language with a capital L (language as a general human capacity) is part of the problem. It was the prior focus on language (text) that led to the disregard of the senses. On the other hand, it is language (with a small "l," a particular tongue) that offers key insights into how other peoples conceptualize the senses. In this article, we argue that a systematic cross-cultural approach can reveal fundamental truths about the precise connections between language and the senses. Recurring failures to adequately describe the sensorium across specific languages reveal the intrinsic limits of Language. But the converse does not hold. Failures of expressibility in one language need not hold any implications for the Language faculty per se, and indeed can enlighten us about the possible experiential worlds available to human experience.© BERG 2011.

Original publication




Journal article


Senses and Society

Publication Date





5 - 18