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Conference Papers Year : 2021

Verbalizing non-human sensory perception in narratives of nature observation


This paper addresses narrative patterns where human language users verbalize non-human perceptions by speaking the (internal) words of the other animal: (1)se [kettu] tuntee jo kymmeniim metriim päästä sen hajun että siel on jotakii ‘s/he [the fox] can feel the smell from dozens of meters away [PTCL] there’s something there’ (2)muutkin siilit huomaa et ahaa täst on menty ’the other hedgehogs also notice [PTCL] aha [open person >] someone has passed here’ A related type of practice has previously been investigated in family conversations where talking through co-present pet dogs was used for conveying interactional meanings to other human participants (Tannen 2004). The present study explores spoken narratives in Finnish where speakers report a posteriori their everyday encounters with mostly non-domestic animals. The data is collected from a call-in radio program (Luontoilta ‘Nature night’) and the Finnish Dialect Syntax Archives. The utterances framed as non-humans’ (inner) speech frequently co-occur with experiencer-based expressions of specific sense modalities (tuntea haju ‘to feel the smell’) as well as perception verbs unmarked for stimulus type (huomata ‘to notice’) (Viberg 2019). They typically also include referentially non-specific or indefinite markers (jotakii ‘something’; open person reference; interrogatives), as well as deictic items (siel ‘there’, täst ‘here’). By using these patterns, the narrator connects the origo of their own subjective orientation (‘I-now-here’) with an imagined spatio-temporal setting (Deixis am Phantasma, Bühler 2011 [1934]). This creates a layering effect: the voice and the bodily coordinates of the human narrator interact with the deictic center of the other creature (Stukenbrock 2014). In this sense, the patterns are narrative resources for making the non-human animal’s perceptual experience more accessible. From a biosemiotic perspective, these patterns serve to concretize and share awareness of the plurality of perceptual and semiotic centers in the situation described (von Uexküll 2011 [1982]). The non-human participants are presented as engaged in embodied sign processes and thus treated as selves, i. e. as beings to whom entities and events in the world matter (Kohn 2013). The paper contributes to our understanding of the complex mappings between human language forms and sensory experiences (Caballero & Paradis 2015), as it raises the question of interspecies sharedness in perception and bodily coordination. References Bühler, Karl. 2011 [1934]. Theory of Language: The Representational Function of Language. Translated by Donald Fraser Goodwin. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Caballero, Rosario & Paradis, Carita. 2015. Making sense of sensory perceptions across languages and cultures. Functions of Language 22. 1–19. Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How forests think: Toward an anthropology beyond the human. Berkeley: University of California Press. Stukenbrock, Anja. 2014. Pointing to an ‘empty’ space: Deixis am Phantasma in face-to-face interaction. Journal of Pragmatics 74. 70–93. Uexküll, Jakob von. 2011 [1982]. The Theory of Meaning. In Maran, Timo & Martinelli, Dario & Turovsk, Aleksei (eds.), Readings in Zoosemiotics, 61–76. Berlin: De Gruyter. Viberg, Åke. 2019. Phenomenon-based perception verbs in Swedish from a typological and contrastive perspective. Syntaxe & Sémantique 20. 17–48.


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halshs-03534238 , version 1 (19-01-2022)


  • HAL Id : halshs-03534238 , version 1


Rea Peltola. Verbalizing non-human sensory perception in narratives of nature observation. 17th International Pragmatics Conference, Jun 2021, Winterthur, Switzerland. ⟨halshs-03534238⟩
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