Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

Language, Perception and Gesture – Bodo Winter

My name is Bodo Winter. I’m a lecturer in
cognitive linguistics at the Department of English Language and Linguistics. My research focuses on the connection between
language and perception, specifically how English speakers speak about sensory impressions
– things like taste, smells, things that we hear, things that we see in the world around
us. To give you an example, it’s been said that
the English language has very few smell words. If you think about some smell words like stinky,
odorous, smelly – they’re all pretty bad and so these days we can quantify these things
and so I’m describing these aspects of how English speakers talk about smells and taste,
for example. One of our findings is that when it comes
to describing touch, for example, English speakers actually – the English language has
a lot of words that have ‘r’s in them – if you think about ‘rough’, ‘rugged’, ‘prickly’
– all of them have ‘r’s in them. Compared to ‘smooth’, ‘slimy’, gooey’ and so on. And
we’ve actually shown that this is the case not just in English but actually in loads
of languages on the globe. Then, connected to this, one other thing that
I study is actually what I’m doing right now with my hands which is gesture. Gesture is
a window into thoughts and while people speak they gesture and therefore reveal what they’re
thinking about. We’ve been looking at, for example, how people talk about numerical quantities
– if I describe a tiny number I actually do a pinching gesture. If I describe a huge number,
I might expand my arms outwards like this. This actually reveals that we think about
numerical quantities in a very physical fashion. We might think that numerical quantities are
very abstract but our research shows that they’re actually grounded in the body.

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