smell and taste

Steven Schaufele fcosw5 at MBM1.SCU.EDU.TW
Fri Apr 24 18:22:46 UTC 1998

Paul Hopper writes:

> I read somewhere that physiologically there are only three basic
> tastes, taste being a quite primitive sense: sweet, bitter/sour, and
> salt - other tastes are perceived by the olfactory sense.

That's certainly not how i understood it.  What i picked up at some
point in youth was the understanding that physiologically there are four
elemental taste-sensations.  `Sweet' is picked up primarily at the tip
of the tongue, `salt' more towards the center of the tongue, `sour'
along the edges, and `bitter' in the back of the tongue.  And other
taste-sensations are due to various combinations of these, in many but
perhaps not all cases also including olfactory sensations.

For me at least, there definitely is a difference between `sour' and
`bitter': `sour' is what characterizes citrus fruits like oranges,
lemons, and grapefruit; it's due to the presence of certain (relatively
simple?) acids, hence the German `Sauer' to mean `acid'.  `Bitter' is
the taste of spinach or of unsweetened chocolate; i don't know what sort
of substance causes this gustatory reaction, but it's definitely
different from `sour' (and, in my experience, it takes a certain amount
of familiarity -- and maturity? -- to appreciate `bitter' tastes; i've
always enjoyed the sour taste of citrus fruits, but i had to learn to
like bitter things like spinach!)

Paul's further suggestion, that we give examples of specific items
representing particular tastes, is a good one and i have tried to follow
it here.  It may be possible to define visual and auditory experiences
in some purely objective way without reference to specific, real-world
stimuli, but as far as i've been able to tell it is not possible to do
so wrt gustatory or olfactory sensations.

Steven Schaufele, Ph.D., Asst. Prof. of Linguistics, English Department

Soochow University, Waishuanghsi Campus, Taipei 11102, Taiwan, ROC

(886)(02)2881-9471 ext. 6504     fcosw5 at

        ***O syntagmata linguarum liberemini humanarum!***

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