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The language of vision in four Aslian speech communities : an introductory investigation of basic vision verbs


  • Sonja Holmer

Summary, in English

Vision is often considered to top the hierarchy of the senses, reflected for example in the high relative frequency of vision verbs, in comparison to other perception verbs. Results from some previous studies, however, have shown that there is greater cross-linguistic variation concerning perception language than previously thought, emphasising other sense modalities than vision. This thesis conducts a first investigation of the domain of vision in the Aslian languages of the Malay Peninsula, a group of speech communities known for their cultural and linguistic elaboration of olfaction, by analyzing lexical and structural contexts of basic vision verbs in specialized narrative-based spoken corpora from four of these languages (Jahai, Ceq Wong, Semaq Beri, and Semelai). The results suggest a dominance of basic vision verbs in all of the languages, but also some cross-linguistic variation as to the semantic characteristics of the verbs. Notably, neither vision metaphors, which some consider to be universal, nor clear-cut cases of polysemous structures are present in the data. Possible explanations for these results, as well as ideas for further research concerning perception language in the Aslian language setting are discussed. The high frequency of vision verbs, even in languages with a focus on olfaction, highlights the universal importance of vision.

Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • language of vision
  • hierarchy of the senses
  • sensory linguistics
  • universal perception
  • language of perception
  • Aslian languages
  • Jahai
  • Ceq Wong
  • Semelai
  • Semaq Beri


  • Niclas Burenhult (Ph.D.)
  • Nicole Kruspe (Dr)