How to smell without a verb “to smell” in Fon
This chapter presents an overview of the constructions used in Fon, a Kwa language spoken in Benin, to express olfaction. There is no verb meaning expressly ‘to smell’ in this language, and the lexicon dedicated to this sensory modality is rather poor, even if a few ideophones are found to specifically qualify olfactory perceptions. It is then worth exploring the ways in which Fon speakers talk about odors and smell. A first strategy found in phenomenon-based constructions is to use a variety of support verbs conceptualizing the emission of the odor. The choice of verb varies according to the quality of the odor (e.g. positive / negative). A second strategy found in experiencer-based constructions is to use a neutral perception verb that is also found with other sensory modes like hearing, and by extension, knowing. Moreover, two serial verb constructions, one phenomenon-oriented and one activity-oriented, are employed to talk about smell. Another particularity of olfactory expressions in Fon is that they are used to convey abstract emotions. I show that odors are conceived as a reflection of their carrier’s identity. The acceptance, rejection, or concealment of odors reveal love, hate, or shame, respectively. Overall, this chapter shows that even if the linguistic domain of smell is not expanded, the Fon language has developed strategies to circumvent the gap.
- 2.Grammatical outline
- 3.Olfactory nominal expressions
- 4.Phenomenon-based constructions
- 5.Experiencer-based constructions
- 6.The olfactory activity expression
- 7.The language of love, hate and shame