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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2017, Issue 215


We like to talk about smell: A worldly take on language, sensory experience, and the Internet

Morana Alač
Published Online: 2017-01-10 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0093


Western languages have been marked by their lack of specialized vocabulary to express odor qualities, and thus it is stated that it is difficult – if not impossible – to talk about smell. To engage the issue of olfactory ineffability, this paper turns to actual instances of textual renderings of smell by paying attention to how the olfactory language of scent enthusiasts is rendered on the Internet. The methods that enthusiasts’ texts inscribe do not rely on specialized vocabulary but constitute a language that is turned toward the world. To articulate this character of olfactory language, the paper illustrates four discursive procedures employed on the Internet: embedding knowledges that are contoured and made available through their uses by the community; borrowing professional vocabulary and adapting it through humor; providing “recipes” for practical actions; and emphasizing the subjective character of scent to provide openings for conversation. The paper traces how olfactory talk becomes available as it is practiced, challenging the opposition between sensory experiences and the semiotic realm that is inscribed in the idea of olfactory ineffability.

Keywords: olfactory semiotics; sensory practices; Internet; discourse


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-01-10

Published in Print: 2017-03-01

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2017, Issue 215, Pages 143–192, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0093.

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