Embodiment has been the tenet of several linguistic theories accounting for how language conceptualizes cognitive and bodily experiences. Studies on linguistic synesthesia and sensory lexicon strengthened the embodiment account by showing that the mapping patterns amongst sense modalities likewise exhibited a tendency from the more embodied to the less embodied. This paper reports a corpus-based study of gustatory vocabulary in Mandarin Chinese to explore the interaction between embodied senses and conceptual embodiment. We first observed that the perception of là 辣 ‘spicy’ and má 麻 ‘numbing’ was chemesthesis derived from a chemical reaction from the body. In addition, the concept of taste was found capable of being depicted by variegated non-taste lexical items from less embodied sensory domains. This study posits that gustatory properties as abstract cognitive categories are likely to be derived from more embodied senses, yet when the quality of gustatory sensation is the focus, less embodied senses can be adopted to modify it. Corroborated with other recent studies, this study underlines and clarifies the role of embodiment as a versatile tool of linguistic conceptualization among multiple conceptual layers instead of being a fixed set of conceptual objects to select from.
- Mandarin gustatory vocabulary
- Linguistic synesthesia
- Sensory modality