smell and taste

Carlos Inchaurralde inchaur at POSTA.UNIZAR.ES
Thu Apr 23 18:59:03 UTC 1998

>On Thu, 23 Apr 1998, Manfred Krifka wrote:
>> 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:
>> German:
>> "Das schmeckt",  lit. 'This tastes', i.e. this tastes good.
>> "Das riecht", lit. 'This smells', i.e. this smells bad.
>> English:
>> "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
>> cross-linguistically.
>In Spanish "Esto huele" (This smells) has a clear negative meaning
>(basically 'this is suspicious')' but "Esto sabe" is more ambiguous in
>the sense that it may have either a positive or a negative value.
>Miren Lourdes Oinederra
>Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea           tel.: + 34 45 18 30 00
>Euskal Filologia Saila                  fax: + 34 45 14 42 94
>2111 P.K.                               e-mail:fvponoll at
>E-01080 Vitoria-Gasteiz.

The asymmetry DOES work in Spanish, but in a peculiar way. You can say
"Esto huele" (This smells) with the sense Miren suggests, but I would never
say "Esto sabe" (This tastes) without a complement. Instead, I think "Esto
es sabroso" (This is tasty) is more likely to be heard from Spanish
speakers, with a positive connotation. It is easy to find expressions like
"una noticia sabrosa" (a tasty piece of news), "un botín sabroso" (a tasty
loot), etc.
On the other hand, "Esto es oloroso" (This is smelly) is unlikely to happen
in Spanish unless it refers to something which has a noticeable smell.

Carlos Inchaurralde
Universidad de Zaragoza

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