ETD system

Electronic theses and dissertations repository


Tesi etd-11112009-100244

Thesis type
Tesi di laurea specialistica
A hierarchy of senses: does it make sense? Reflections on linguistics, anthropology and neurology
Corso di studi
relatore Prof. Ajello, Roberto
correlatore Prof. Marotta, Giovanna
Parole chiave
  • synesthesia
  • linguistic relativity
  • perception
  • psycholinguistics
  • sensotype
  • pulsetaking
Data inizio appello
Riassunto analitico
One of the ways in which sensory experience can be expressed is through synaesthetic expressions: "warm voice", "cold colour", are just a couple of examples. In synaesthesia, perceptions in a certain sensory modality are defined by adjectives proper to another sensory modality: e.g. "warm voice" combines hearing and touch, while "cold colour" combines sight and touch. Cross-linguistic studies have highlighted a recurrent pattern in the composition of synaesthetic expressions, which is thought to be due to an underlying cognitive constraint. The pattern would order modalities in a hierarchy, according to their different distinctiveness and significance. Being the constraint cognitive, it would hold for every language.

This work challenges this hypothesis, claiming that an evaluation of the relationship among sensory modalities cannot be pursued through linguistic analysis only. Other important factors have to be taken into account: mostly, the cultural biases which give meaning to perceptions. As anthropology points out, in fact, the meanings attributed to perceptions and the level of reliability accorded to the various senses are due to cultural presuppositions, hence extremely various across the human communities. Perception stems from a physiological and neurological endowment shared by all human beings, but the individual evaluates and connects sensory perceptions according to elaborations which can be understood only with reference to the cultural context in which the person has been brought up. It follows that a unique hierarchy of senses, universally valid for all cultures and languages, is not applicable.