smell and taste

Manfred Krifka krifka at MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU
Thu Apr 23 14:20:42 UTC 1998

Dear all,

Bingfu's question about basic taste words reminded me of the following
asymmetry between the uses of the basic predicates for tasting and smelling
that can be illustrated with English and German:

"Das schmeckt",  lit. 'This tastes', i.e. this tastes good.
"Das riecht", lit. 'This smells', i.e. this smells bad.

"This is tasty", i.e. it tastes good.
"This is smelly", i.e. it smells bad.

There is a ready explanation for this asymmetry: We have more control over
things that we put in our mouth than over the gaseous substances that enter
our nose. And we typically put good things into our mouth, hence the
tendency for the unmodified use of tasting predicates to denote something
good. I'm curious whether the same type of asymmetry manifests itself

 Manfred Krifka
 Dept. of Linguistics, B5100
 University of Texas at Austin
 Austin, TX 78712-1196, USA
 phone: 1-512-4711701, fax: 4714340

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