Friday, March 5, 2010

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] (Yasmin_discussions) Multisensory Perception

Hi Raewyn,

On Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 6:31 AM, Raewyn Turner <> wrote:

> Thanks Paul for pointing us to "InterMedia Patterns" your great blog with
> Jack Ox.
> Could you expand on the ways that multi-sensory perception affects
> language?
Briefly, to keep the topic going, I'd point to Alan Merriam's
classification scheme, and in particular how he remarks that cross-sensory
expressions seem to be common to all language.

"Intersense Transfer involves the perception of sensory qualities in
different modalities as similar. "Rough" and "smooth" sounds and surfaces,
for example."

I didn't note it in the post on the blog (,
but as I recall, in his text Merriam says these kinds of expression seem to
be common to all languages.

I would suggest two other ways that language gets entangled with
multi-modality and cross-modality.

Music, we know, appears in all cultures. There is research that suggests
that the kinesthetic element of music production (on "traditional"
instruments) excites "mirror neurons" in the listener. We perceive the
resistance and varying intensity of musical sound as a kind of internalized
gesture. It seems fairly reasonable to assert that the cadence of speech
excites a similar response--the loudness and timbre of the voice convey
intensity over time. This is a non-semantic aspect of spoken language, and
it can be evoked in written language (consider poetry).

We can take this gestural aspect of language a step farther. Gaston
Bachelard suggest, for example, that the word "clignoter" (to wink) sounds
like what it means: the varying muscular effort/intensity of winking is
mapped onto the sound of the verb. I can hear this--the "gn" or "ñ"
(Spanish) sound has something of the press and release of a wink to it. It's
speculative, yet not entirely unreasonable to think that language is formed
by such underlying, ultimately neurological processes. Poets exploit
language as if such a process were at work.

And metaphor, that was long thought of an an adjunct or ornament to
language, now seems to be revealed as a window into the way the mind
structures meaning. I'd just point for the moment to the work of Gilles
Fauconnier and Mark Turner (, see
"Rethinking Metaphor") and Goerge Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Metaphors We Live
By, etc.).

I would would suggest that intersense transfer, if it is common to all
languages just as metaphor apparently is, also offers a window on the
functioning of hte brain.

Will try to write more a little later, have to go now.


-- Paul

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