A team of psychologists has found new evidence for smell language in the Malay Peninsula. In Jahai, a hunter-gatherer language spoken in the Malay Peninsula, there are around a dozen different words to describe different qualities of smell.
For example, ‘ltpit’ is the word to describe the smell of various flowers and ripe fruit, durian, perfume, soap, aquillaria wood and bearcat. ‘Ces’, another smell word, is used for identifying odour of petrol, smoke, bat droppings and bat caves and root of wild ginger.
The research team presented Jahai speakers and a matched set of English speakers with the same set of colours and odours to name. Each participant was simply asked to say ‘What colour is this?’ or ‘What odour is this?’
The researchers found that Jahai speakers could name odours with the same conciseness as colours but English speakers struggled to name odours. Grappling hard to describe smells, English speakers’ responses for odours were five times longer than their responses for colours.
According to the study, the inability to name smells is a product of culture and not biology