Language Scents

I had a thought recently.... follow me.
It's been established that smell is the sense most closely related to memory. Many of us have experienced this (I do constantly): walking through a mall or a park or a place with smells... and something or someone suddenly comes to mind, seemingly out of the blue. A split second later, I realize it was cued by whatever smell I just encountered. Memories flood back very clearly.
So I got to thinking.... one of the necessities of effective language learning is a good memory; the increased retention of information obviously provides a greater return on your investment of time you devote to studying.
I did a cursory google search to see if anyone else had considered this, and there was only a small glimmer of hope. More on that later. I give you: the limbic system.
Wikipedia tells us that "the limbic system (or Paleomammalian brain) is a set of brain structures including the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, and limbic cortex, which support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, long term memory, and olfaction."
In as little detail as possible, the other little tidbits of information that seemed relevant were the dentate gyrus, which "is thought to contribute to new memories" and "is notable as being one of a select few brain structures currently known to have high rates of neurogenesis in adult humans." The entorhinal cortex (EC) is an important memory center in the brain. [It] forms the main input to the hippocampus and is responsible for the pre-processing (familiarity) of the input signals." The hippocampus is also a big important chunk of the brain dealing with long term memory. All that is to say that it makes sense that the olfactory system (and it's relation to memory and emotion) easily prompts us to recall very clearly things that may not have crossed our minds in ages.
The wrench in the gears is finding/creating a synesthetic-enough correlation between emotional memories and cold hard linguistic knowledge, which usually doesn't carry any emotional weight. However, if there WERE any relation, think of the impact of having the near-total recall with language as we do when we (arguably involuntarily) recall a long-unthought thought.
But again, in a practical sense, how does one combine the general experience of those two senses in a linguistically relevant way? It didn't seem to make any sense until I found an article written by a doctor working in the field of deaf-blindness who is currently working to use the sense of smell to improve (what I suppose you would call) comprehension of objects and their surroundings.
Unrelated application? Yeah.
Possibly very strong means of communication with someone who has no other means of speaking (as are, to a certain degree, students of a new language)? Yes.



Cars are rare here. That's not to say there's not tons of them and traffic and general chaos, but the majority of the general population does not own one. They drive the two wheeled variety.
I guess we are raised around/in/with cars in America, and are just used to that. I've noticed a number of people here have car problems and are entirely unaware of what to do. If the car won't even turn over (clearly because of a dead battery), sitting there for half an hour cranking and cranking and cranking isn't going to do any good. I've seen this phenomenon more than a few times here. Just this evening I went to grab a bite to eat, walking, and on the way there a poor guy was trying to start his car. It just didn't have enough juice to get started. I ate dinner, and on the way back, he was still sitting there grinding the alternator, but this time it was far more hopeless since he'd drained the battery down.
Just another one of those things we don't think about culturally, I guess. If I saw a guy in a Walmart parking lot (in America; goes without saying, no?) who was having car trouble, he'd probably fix it or know what was wrong before I made it in the store.
Cars are a part of our childhood(s[?]), I think. I remember when I was little and we'd all pack in Mom's Buick and I'd sit in the front seat with dad while mom was in the back with my brother and we'd be going to Savannah or Augusta or Florida and listening to Elton John or Fleetwood Mac or Bob Segar or something (but it did seem like any time we went to Savannah we ended up listening to Natalie Cole and Bonnie Raitt). I remember the words to all those songs and they're fond childhood memories.
That is to say, even in small ways it's interesting to see how backgrounds are different and what we remember fondly.
"Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane..."


Tonality, Language aptitude, learning patters and (microcephaly-related) genetics


Pretty incredible stuff. I was doing some reading today on tonal languages. Google will tell you that it is estimated that between 50-70% of the world's languages are tonal. Tonal languages are found the world over, with the overwhelming exception of Europe, the Americas and the Middle East (although there are languages even in these places that exhibit at least some elements of tonality).
A largely foreign concept to English speakers (and those of the western world as a whole), it is interesting to consider where languages come from, what molds them and how the become what they are.
This got me to a question I've asked and discussed before.
Knowing that there is such correlation and transparency with a culture and its language (i.e. what the language reflects about the culture and vice versa), the chicken-or-egg question is: does culture influence language or does language influence culture? There is clearly a give-and-take relationship here, and opinions and viewpoints are biased. Those that know nothing of a language and only (possibly the stereotypes of) the culture obviously do not have the insight that those do who possess knowledge of the language and DEDUCE linguistic and cultural relations rather than superimpose them onto a people.
That being said, I find it interesting that not only is it just personality and character that make languages unique, such as things for which one language might have a plethora of words that another lacks entirely, but that even grammatical and phonological traits can (or might) be linked to fundamental genetics.
In our next issues: how languages (and learning them) are like cars, why you can thank Midlands English you're not conjugating, and what vikings, leprechauns and Zeus have to do with the dental fricative.