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The semantics of taste
Related: semantic - taste
This is an essay on the language used in criticism, reviewing, recommendations and its meaning to the culture industry.
IntroductionOf the four tastes (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter), only sweet, sour, and bitter are used to express value judgement in other spheres than the purely gustatory.
Other words to desribe taste (which are not derived from food/mouth experience) are kitsch, camp, sleazy, trashy
Sylvie Normand articleThe sense of taste is a chemical sense and the gustatory sensors react to fixed chemical molecules. The mouth, however, as well as sensing the taste molecules, also perceives tactile and thermal sensations. It is difficult to differentiate precisely between a first type of reaction, provoked by a gustatory stimulus, and a second type of tactile reaction, for the two occur almost simultaneously. Acidity for example, gives a sensation of roughness on the gums and in the mouth as a whole, as well as a biting perception on the sides of the tongue. For this reason, what we perceive in the mouth is never only gustatory, but rather heterosensory, with everything being mixed into a single, global sensory image.
In 1914, the chemist C. Cohn imposed " a concept simplifying categorisation into four tastes of gustatory quality, rather than the more subtle concept of a continuum " (Faurion A., 1996 : 217). The categorisation, on the semantic level, was thus based on central structures built around four tastes: sweet, salty, acidic and bitter. The gustatory system, however, is not recognised as working by categories:
" the gustatory system discriminates, but does not categorise. We perceive not four, but an infinity of different tastes. " (ibid. : 219)
Sweet, bitter, acid and salt are thus the four recognised semantic categories, even though, on the gustatory level, several stimuli are compatible with the same receptor. The perception of a gustatory sensation is therefore not local, but diffuse. This is why we can have two similar sensations generating two sets of information on the basis of which we make a choice of resenblance or differentiation. In fact, each time we taste the same stimulus, a sensory image is created, but this image is different from one individual to another:
" If we have an objective reference at our disposal, for example, sugar or salt, we can give it the same name, but our qualitative perception cannot be communicated, for it is not the same pattern of nerve fibres which is formed from one individual to another. " (Faurion A., 1996 : 220)
© Sylvie Normand, 1999
Energizing, Exciting Soothing, Relaxing N/A
Dense, Thick Light, Free, Transparent N/A
Harsh, Aggressive Gentle, Peaceful N/A
Cold, Firm Warm, Soft N/A
Bright, Dynamic, Ornate Low Key, Calm, Melancholic N/A
Popular, Plain, Simple Elaborate, Sophisticated N/A
Dark, Pessimistic, Bitter Light, Cheerful, Sweet N/A
Emotional, Sensual, Playful Sober, Arranged, Proper
- The Lexical Field of Taste : A Semantic Study of Japanese Taste Terms () - A. E. Backhouse [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
In this extraordinary new work, Dr. Backhouse undertakes a semantic study of taste terms in modern spoken Japanese. Through an investigation of the range of vocabulary available for the description of taste qualities, and their interrelationship in terms of meaning, Dr. Backhouse presents a sensitive elucidation of the structure of Japanese taste terms, which has significant implications for anthropological linguistics. He explores important semantic issues, such as the relationship between evaluative and descriptive meaning, the intralinguistic mechanisms at work in metaphor, and draws illuminating connections between the lexical field of color and that of taste.
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