English speakers were best at talking Sunflower I Just Really Really Really Really Really Love Elephants Shirt about shapes and colors. They all agreed, for example, that something was a triangle or green. Speakers of Lao and Farsi, on the other hand, excelled at naming tastes. When offered bitter-flavored water, all Farsi speakers in the study described it as “talk”, the Farsi word for bitter. This was not the case with English speakers.
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When offered the same bitter-flavored water, “English speakers said everything from bitter, to salty, sour, not bad, plain, mint, like ear wax, medicinal and so forth”, says Majid. She says this kind of taste confusion consistently happens to English speakers in lab tests: “They describe bitter as being salty and sour, they describe sour as being bitter, they describe salt as being sour.
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So even though we’ve got the vocabulary, there seems to be some confusion in people’s minds over how to map their taste experience onto language.” Interestingly, the language communities that had very high scores for the tasting task – Farsi, Lao, and Cantonese – all have famously sophisticated cuisines that cultivate a range of different flavors, including bitterness. The reason may have to do with living and hunting in forests that are rich in smells.
Other participants struggled with certain tasks because their language simply lacked words for what they were shown. Umpila, a language spoken by a hunter-gatherer community in Australia, only has words for black, white and red. However, Umpila speakers found it easiest to describe smells. This tendency towards smell rather than vision is found among hunter-gatherers around the world, including the Sunflower I Just Really Really Really Really Really Love Elephants Shirt aforementioned Jahai.