Exploring the Sensory Spaces of English Perceptual Verbs in Natural Language Data

In this study, we explore how language captures the meaning of words, in particular meaning related to sensory experiences learned from statistical distributions across texts. We focus on the most frequent perception verbs of English analyzed from an and Agentive vs. Experiential distinction across the five basic sensory modalities: Visual (to look vs. to see), Auditory (to listen vs. to hear), Tactile (to touch vs. to feel), Olfactory (to smell), and Gustatory (to taste). In this study we report on a data-driven approach based on distributional-semantic word embeddings and clustering models to identify and uncover the descriptor sensory spaces of the perception verbs. In the analysis, we identified differences and similarities of the generated descriptors based on qualitative and quantitative differences of the perceptual experience they denote. For instance, our results show that while the perceptual spaces of the experiential verbs like to see, to hear show a more detached, logical way of knowing and learning, their agentive counterparts (to look, listen) provide a more intentional as well as more intimate and intuitive way of discovering and interacting with the world around us. We believe that such an approach has a high potential to expand our understanding and the applicability of such sensory spaces to different fields of social and cultural analysis. Research on the semantic organization of sensory spaces for various applications might benefit from an the Agentive/Experiential account to address the complexity of multiple senses wired with each other in still unexplored ways.

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