Vision dominates in perceptual language: English sensory vocabulary is geared towards usage

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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 a greater number of unique words for the visual domain in the English lexicon. Conversely, sensory modalities that are less frequently talked about, particularly taste and smell, also show more diminished 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 in perceptual language, precisely those semantic domains that are more frequently talked about are also more lexically differentiated, suggesting that the sensory lexicon of English is geared towards communicative efficiency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-220
Number of pages8
Early online date30 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Perception
  • Visual Perception
  • Sensation
  • Sense Organs
  • Language
  • corpus linguistics
  • word frequency
  • Cognitive Linguistics


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