Sensory language across lexical categories

Bodo Winter, Francesca Strik Lievers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
650 Downloads (Pure)


Being able to talk about what humans perceive with their senses is one of the fundamental capacities of language. But how do languages encode perceptual information? In this paper, we analyze how experiences from different senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) are encoded differentially across lexical categories (nouns, verbs, adjectives) in the English language. Three independently collected lists of perception-related words show that sound concepts are more prone to being expressed as verbs. Data from an independent rating study furthermore shows that nouns rated to strongly relate to motion are also rated to strongly relate to sound, more so than is the case for color-related nouns. We argue that the association of verbs with sound is due to sound concepts being inherently more dynamic, motion-related and event-based, in contrast to other sensory perceptions which are phenomenologically less strongly associated with motion and change. Overall, our results are the first to show differential encoding of perception-related concepts across different types of lexical categories. Our analyses of lexical patterns provide empirical evidence for the interconnection of semantics and grammar
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-61
Number of pages17
Early online date21 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • part-of-speech
  • lexical categories
  • grammar
  • syntactic categories
  • senses
  • perception


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