Chapter published in:The Linguistics of Olfaction: Typological and Diachronic Approaches to Synchronic Diversity
Edited by Łukasz Jędrzejowski and Przemysław Staniewski
[Typological Studies in Language 131] 2021
► pp. 277–304
Olfactory words in northern Vanuatu.
Langue vs. parole
This corpus-based study examines the lexical domain of olfaction in the Oceanic languages of northern Vanuatu. While a tropical ecology is sometimes believed to favor elaborate encoding patterns for smells, this does not appear to be the case in Vanuatu. Most languages there show a rather limited array of lexemes, whether to refer to smelling events (active, passive, experiencer-based) or to the odors themselves. That said, sources based on speakers’ competence (langue) rather than performance (parole) suggest that languages may in fact possess a latent elaborate olfactory lexicon, even if it surfaces rarely in ordinary speech. The low discourse frequency of specific terms may be explained by cultural factors, as smells appear to play a reduced functional role in traditional social practices of Vanuatu. Finally, my corpus of conversation and oral literature shows that when olfaction is mentioned, it is mostly associated, first, with the islands’ natural environment; and second, with the existential contrast between death and life.
Keywords: lexical semantics, langue vs. parole, corpus study, poetry, Oceanic languages
Published online: 26 April 2021
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