Sensory Perceptions in Language and Cognition
  • ISSN 0929-998X
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9765
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In the existing literature on synaesthetic metaphors in poetry it is proposed that transfers tend to go from the ‘lower’ (touch, smell, taste) to the ‘higher’ (sight, hearing) sensory modalities. The purpose of this article is to establish if the same directionality also holds for synaesthetic associations found in other text types. To this end, a method for the semi-automatic extraction of synaesthesia is introduced and applied to general-purpose corpora of English (ukWaC) and Italian (itWaC). In the data collected for these languages, most transfers proceed in the expected direction, e.g. sweet voice, but instances of ‘backward’ transfers are also found, e.g. bitter cold. Based on these results, it is claimed that the ‘directionality principle’ reflects the frequency of association types, rather than representing universal constraints on synaesthetic transfers, as has often been more or less explicitly assumed. It is here argued that both properties of human perception and more strictly linguistic factors can account for the frequency tendencies observed in synaesthesia. The proposed interpretation is also shown to account for apparently contradictory evidence coming from typological studies on verbs of perception.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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