The Power of Language – LEAP Links Video Conference

I won’t be speaking about
things like poetry or character or any of those really
cool things in English. I’ll actually be talking much
more broadly about the power that language has over us
socially and politically, and the role that it plays in
our lives, and how it’s kind of important for us to have a
better understanding of that. But before I get into those
topics, I just want to say a little bit
about how I came to these topics and why I have this interest. Now, all of my research focuses
on things like pragmatism. You don’t really need to
know what that means. It’s kind of an obscure
American tradition. But also I’m interested in
racism and I’m interested in gender and feminism and I’m
interested in obscure branches of philosophy like
epistemology and ontology. Again, you don’t need to
know what those things mean. But what kind of draws all of
my interests together is this deep concern with language
and the way language works. Now, my PhD topic itself was
on indexical words like I, and here, and now. This illustrates why people get
frustrated with philosophers. How can you spend three
years writing a PhD topic on one word like I? What’s really interesting about
those words for me is that whenever you say the word I,
or you say the word here, or you say the word now, you always manage to
refer successfully. And whenever I say
I, I refer to me. And whenever you say
I, you refer to you. For philosophers, these things
are really interesting. Now, since then, my interest
has kind of branched out beyond just the mere
semantics of these words and how they work to look
much more closely at social and political
dimensions of language. Where my interest really
lies is with the role that language plays in
race and racism. I’ve written a book about
that and lots of my research focuses on the language
of race and racism. Anyway, to sort of push on, why am I really so
interested in language? The very short answer is that language is
incredibly powerful. Just to show you
how powerful it is and how influential it is, I just want to show
you this short story. It’s a true story. I’ll read it a little,
but essentially, what the story’s
about is an instance from about 20 years
ago when two people were sailing in the
Mediterranean on a yacht that they’d hired and it was
overturned by large waves. Now, they were rather
ruffled by this experience but actually the vessel had
managed to right itself. For the most part,
it was intact. The only problem that they
really had was that the tiller system had broken and they were
unable to steer the yacht. Apart from that, it was
completely seaworthy, they still had all their
food supplies intact, and their water filtration
pump was still working, but they were quite panicked
that they couldn’t steer it. Now, in response to this, what
the two amateur sailors did is they inflated their
life raft in preparation, in response to potential
difficulties, just in case it
overturned again and they couldn’t inflate
it in an emergency. They filled it with
supplies of fresh water and food or some of them, and they hitched it to
the back of the yacht, and then they climbed into it. After a couple of
days of floating around the Mediterranean
like this, the line to the
main vessel snapped and they were set adrift,
just in the life raft. About a week and a half later,
they were finally rescued, and they’d run completely
out of supplies, they’d run out of water, and they’d pretty much
given up on being rescued and assumed that they
were just going to die. Now, the rescuers struggled
to work out what had gone on. Why on earth did they
leave their vessel? Why did they leave their
yacht with its supplies and its working filtration pump
and opt to sit out their experience in a life
raft tied to the back? Strictly speaking, they
couldn’t steer either of them. They couldn’t steer the yacht and they couldn’t
steer the life raft. So why did they get
in the life raft? Through counselling
and various things, they worked out that what
it actually came down to was simply this:
It was a life raft. They were absolutely
terrified about being in a life-threatening situation so what they did was climb
into their life raft. Had we called it
something different, like an emergency flotation
device, as horrible as– as clumsy as that piece
of terminology is, they probably wouldn’t
have climbed into it and they’d have been fine
floating around in this yacht with their supplies and their
plentiful supply of water, but they didn’t. They almost managed
to kill themselves because they thought they
were doing the right thing. And because of that word, life. And it’s all about the
power of language there. Whilst that’s an
extreme example, it turns out that language
has this influence on us, in how we behave and how we
act in all kinds of contexts. Now, the core question,
for me, actually is, why does language have this
power over our reasoning? It clearly did in this case, so why does it have this
power more generally? I want to show you a couple of
interesting things about how our connection to language
is so central to the kind of beings that we are that that
may explain why language has this influence and
power over us. What I want to do is just
show you these two shapes. One of them is called Bouba
and the other is called Kiki. Okay. You think of the way
we name any shape, we name it a square
or a circle. Well, here there are
two kinds of shapes, one of them is a bouba,
one of them is a kiki. Now have a quick look at
them and just ask yourself, which one of those
two shapes is a kiki and which one is a bouba? It turns out if you said
that the spiky one is a kiki and the squeegier and
rounder one is a bouba, then you’re in an agreement
with pretty much the vast majority of people
who are asked this question. And it’s not just English
language speakers, it’s people who speak lots
of different languages. They’re asked the same thing. Which one of these
shapes is a kiki? Which one is a bouba? And it turns out that
most people think the spiky one is a kiki and the
squeegee one is a bouba. Now, this was a kind
of an experiment done by Oxford Linguists. What they found is it looks
like there’s something going on with language, which they
called sound symbolism. It turns out that we all seem
to have some instinctive notion about what words
mean before we’re actually introduced to the objects
they might refer to. Now, this is of
course an experiment and these are made up
words and made up shapes, but it turns out
that this maybe holds for language too
– natural language. Let me give you another
couple of examples from real language, from
this sound symbolism. Here are two words,
ghanda and booku. One of them means big,
just like the other words, like we asked you
with the shapes, which is kiki, which is bouba, but here, unless you
speak Gujarati, you won’t know which one
of these words means big and which one doesn’t,
but one of them does. Obviously, it’s 50/50,
but take a quick guess, and if you said ghanda,
you were right. And again, the vast majority
of people who are asked this question who don’t speak Gujarati
somehow manage to pick up that ghanda is right, and they do so at a rate that’s
higher than coincidence. Super interesting
for linguists. How do we have this tapped
in fix on language? Let me give you another
example, and again, you won’t get this unless
you speak Indonesian. Well, you will get, I
guess, is the point, but you won’t know it beforehand
unless you speak Indonesian. Here are three examples,
three words: bergerigi, – and if you are an
Indonesian speaker please forgive my pronunciation
– Yuan and bombat. Now, one of these
words means pointed. I’ve actually already
told you that, but which one is it? And again, if you
picked the first one, if you picked bergerigi,
then you got it right. And again, most people
get this correct, not at the same rate
as they do with ghanda, actually, but when we
do the experiments we can go through lots and
lots of words like this, and it turns out that
people seem to get the right answer about
what these words mean at a much greater rate
than you would expect if it was merely coincident. Now, again it’s difficult
for us to explain this as linguists and
philosophers of language, but it looks as though
there’s something about the sounds of
the words themselves, and what we take
them to refer to, and what we allow
them to refer to. For instance, going back to
the original example of kiki and bouba with spiky
shapes and rounded shapes, if you think about it, kiki
kind of sounds pointy, it kind of sounds sharp, and
bouba, it’s much nicer, it’s much more rounded, it
has a much softer sound, and so does the shape. The thought is that
this symbolism, this connection between the
sounds that make up the words and the things that they refer
to is somehow important for the way words mean things. That’s the natural connection
the way we understand language and what language
actually refers to. Now, you might think, Okay. That’s interesting, but
I thought we were talking about why this language
is of importance for political and
social reasons. But let me show you
why this matters, or a couple of reasons
for why this matters. The idea is this: There’s a natural connection
to language and meaning, and it’s interesting for
all kinds of reasons, but it’s particularly
interesting because it seems as though it can influence our
thoughts and our actions and our reasoning depending
on the words we use. Now, an experiment conducted
at Cambridge University by Mark Spenson and various other
folks were looking at the connection between shapes,
words, and what we sort of call cross-modality,
so things like our taste, how we hear things,
how we see things, and what all of
that stuff means. What they did was they gave
people different things to eat and different things to drink,
and then they asked them, Okay. What do you think of
the flavour, and the taste, and the feel, and the smell,
and things like that, and can you associate it with
one of these kind of words? And what they found was that
people would take things like sparkling water or cranberry
juice – think about the kind of the tart acidity of
cranberry juice and Maltesers, and I don’t know if you know
what Maltesers are in Australia. You do? Okay. That’s all right. Well, they’re wonderful anyway. They’re kind of like a nice
honeycomb covered in chocolate. And what people tended to
do is they associated these things with sharp angular
things and high-pitched words like kiki and takete. So you think about kind of
the astringency of cranberry or the taste of cranberry. It’s very sharp, so people
kind of associate that with sharp sounding words
like kiki, like takete. Other deeper or more rounder
tastes, and sounds, and smells – excuse me – like
Brie, like Caramel Nibbles, these kind of things,
they were actually– people associated them
much more closely with lower sounding words,
much more rounded words like bouba and maluma. Now, we already have a great
volume of literature about this sound symbolism, but what
was interesting is that it turns out that this
may be super useful to advertisers to
market things. So when you’re looking at two
packets of lollies on the shelf, you can be pretty much
guaranteed that the one with this tika is probably going to
be kind of like very citrusy and kind of hard, whereas if you buy yourself
a packet of maluma, it’s going to be kind of
like nice and melty in the mouth and lovely
rich chocolate. Okay? We’re already tapped
into the product by the name that it’s given. So when you’re
next in the shops, have a look at the things
that chocolate bars and drinks are called. Sometimes the names don’t
really mean very much, but you’re kind of tapped
into what that thing is going to taste like, what it’s going to smell like
just in virtue of the word, and it’s because of this
natural connection. Now, further consequence of
this kind of connection that’s super interesting is that it
turns out we may be able to use it to make things like
medicine more palatable to people. Depending on what we call the
medicines that we’re given, our experiences of the
taste can change, and that can be really,
really important in life-saving medicines that
have to be taken regularly, and for things like cancer
treatments, and so on. There are all kinds of
opportunities to manipulate this kind of connection
between language. Now, like I said, my own
interest isn’t just in this natural connection here. It’s about further political
and social ramifications. What I want to show you is, rather than kind of just what
happens when we make up new words, I also want to show you
something else about the way we currently use words and how
important those things are. What I want to show you is
a really simple example. I want you to take and
understand these two words – woman and girl. I’m saying woman versus girl
as though it’s a fight, but that’s not
really what I mean. Just think about these
two kinds of meaning. Now, what I’m getting at here
is we can use two different kinds of words to refer
to the same thing. We can actually use
many kinds of words to refer to the same thing. Take, for example–
take this here. I can call it a chair or
I can call this a seat, but it’s the same thing
whichever I call it. But actually, which word I
choose to call it can have quite a profound impact on how we see
it and how we understand it. The fact that it refers to the
thing means these words have the same core meaning, but the broader social
upshot of the words we use – chair, or seat, or
table, or desk – can have kind of
extended meaning. Here’s the thing. We can use the word woman and
we can use the word girl in certain context to refer to
humans who are gendered female. Now, the thing is that means
they have the same core meaning but the extended
meanings of those two words are very, very different. For instance, woman, when we
analyse how this word is seen, is much more grounded and
it’s much more serious, and it seems as a much
stronger word than girl, whereas girl is seen as much more
playful, much more lighthearted. It’s much more
aspirational than woman. And you can do the same thing
with men and boys, by the way. I can refer to the people I
play soccer with as boys or I can refer to them as men. I’d be referring to
the same people, but the upshot’s different. Now, why does this matter? I’m going to show you
a couple of things. I’m not showing you the
original newspaper articles because of copyright, but what I’m going to show
you just the headlines from a couple of– you’ll have
seen these listicles everywhere. If you click on anything
on the internet, it’s a list of 25 reasons why
something and something, and number five will– oh, my heart will–
this kind of weirdness. But this is these kind
of headlines, okay? I’m not showing you
the original things. I’m just showing you the headlines
and some related pictures. For example, here’s one
headline for woman. Eight Common Mistakes
Women Make in Marriage. Why would you use women here? Well, because it’s
about marriage. This is serious stuff. Okay? If you had Eight Common Mistakes
Girls Make in Marriage, it sounds kind of
weird, but also, it sort of detracts from
the apparent gravity of making mistakes in marriage. You can’t be playful
and aspirational. But here’s another
example with girl. Seven Reasons Why
Girls Love Chocolate. If you read it, you’ll find
that’s the same seven reasons why I love chocolate. And there are far more than seven
reasons to love chocolate, but the main point here
is that this is meant to be kind of lighthearted. So you use girls because
it’s much more playful, but actually, you’re
referring to the same thing. Now, you might think, Okay. That’s just kind of like silly
news stuff and advertising, but actually, there are other
ramifications to this. When you use terms like girls, you take away some of the
gravity, some of the seriousness, some of the responsibility. If you think of the similar and
related example with boys, when you use boys,
you’re taking away the– again, the responsibility
and the solidity. Think of comments like
boys will be boys. This can be used to refer to
the actions of grown men, which are sometimes
completely irresponsible, but because we’re referring to
them as boys, in that context, it somehow becomes more forgivable
that they’ve done this, because they’re boys, right? Boys don’t have
responsibilities. They’re just boys. Girls don’t have to think
hard about things. Girls are sort of fuzzy-headed
and aspirational, and they aren’t serious
things like women. The kind of language you use
can actually have quite important ramifications for how we
think these things out further. That’s a couple of
simple examples. What I want to just show you
now are some further cases where the actual political upshots
are even stronger than this. You might think, okay, even if we talk about girls
as not being serious, or boys as not being serious, there are still quite important
social ramifications for this because it imposes certain
restrictions on us in virtue of our gender. If I start referring to
all females as girls, regardless of the context, we might be talking about
political aspiration or political representation
and I say things like, Well, you know, girls
are thus and so. Girls in politics
never really works. I’ve automatically demeaned
female representatives in politics by making it
not serious and strong, but actually aspirational
and kind of lighthearted and not so serious, just in
virtue of using that word. Let me show you some
other examples. This is particularly
prominent in the US, and this is the debate that goes
on around abortion law in the US. Now, if you look at how
that debate’s framed, people use the words pro-life to
describe their position as being against abortion and for
restrictions on abortion, and they describe
themselves a pro-choice when they are in favour of kind of making sure the option
of abortion is widespread, or widely available,
I should say. Now, why use terms like
pro-life or pro-choice? Why not use anti-choice
or anti-life? Well, because those things
seem really negative. Who wants to be against choice? So you don’t describe
yourself as anti-choice, you describe yourself
as pro-life. And you don’t describe
yourself as anti-life, you describe yourself
as pro-choice. What’s going on with these kinds
of names is that each side of this debate are trying
desperately to frame the argument in their terms because if you
can define the argument in terms of whether or not one
is for preserving life or against preserving life, then
it becomes a debate which you’re much more
likely to win out in. No one wants to describe
themselves as being against life. I’m not for killing. And similarly with choice, if pro-choice get to use their
terminology to define the debate, it’s much harder for those who are
pro-restrictions on abortions to win out in that
kind of argument because it seems as though they have to construct their
position as being against choice and against women having the right
to control their own bodies. So how do you frame
your own position, just the very words you choose
is actually a key part of how arguments go and
the kind of position you find yourself arguing from. Now, just to give a further
illustration of this is the gun control
debates in the US. In the United States,
the gun control debate, as it’s often called, is already defined in terms
of this terminology. It is about gun control. What that allows kind
of like proponents of the right to bear arms to do, is
to say, This is not about guns. This is about control. Government shouldn’t be
allowed to control our lives. Now, when you’re on the
opposite side of that debate, you become the person who wants
to control everyone’s lives and choices rather than allow
people to have freedom. If, however, you get
to reframe the debate, and use a different
kind of language, and talk about gun
violence protection or gun violence prevention, then you’re doing something
different and the debate changes. Now, I’ve put a link
up there, which, I don’t know if you’ll have
access to these slides later – but if you want to go have
a read of that article, it’s worth reading because
what it shows you is that when you ask Americans, are you for or
against gun control, they tend to be
fairly evenly split. When you start asking them
about gun violence prevention, the numbers change. So you’re asking them
the same question, would you pass this law in
order to help gun control? Forty percent will say yes. When you say, Would you pass this law to
help gun violence prevention? And it’s the very same law, you
find that the numbers saying, Yes, they would, go up
quite substantially. Again, it’s just in terms of
framing the debate and the language you use, and it’s
because of that connection we have to these words. Those are simple examples of
how the words we use matter. What I want to just finish with
are just a couple of cases that I find especially
interesting. They’re to do with how
race affects our thoughts about things–
sorry, not how race, sorry. How language affects our
thoughts about things like immigration, and
race, and so on. To give you a really
simple overview here, take words like immigrant,
and refugee, and Muslim, and Middle Eastern,
and terrorist. These words all mean
very different things, but in the standard debates –
public debates – about this, these words often get
conflated, so immigrant and refugee get run together. The idea is that they
refer to the same thing. In actual fact, they don’t. These words have very
different extended meanings but they also have very
different core meanings, but they get run together so we
end up treating them together. And the same with Muslim. Not all Muslims are
Middle Eastern and not all terrorists
are Muslims. Not all Muslims are terrorists. They’re all very different
things, but because of the way these things are conflated,
it’s very easy to think that all Muslims are immigrants,
or are refugees, or from the Middle East, or
terrorists, or Islamicists. What you find is that this
generates a kind of strange set of arguments where we
become Islamophobic and we become anti-immigrant, and the arguments we
might have for thinking that we have to be careful
about who we do and don’t let into the country
become arguments for why we should keep refugees detained
in off-shore detention centres, and they become arguments
about how Muslims aren’t really Australian, despite the
fact that huge numbers of Australian Muslims are
born in this country and are second
generation Australians or third generation
Australians. These kind of debates
come about– these confusions come about
because of these running together of terms, so we have
to be really careful to make sure that these terms
are separated. When our politicians
run them together, we have make sure that
they’re pulled apart, and we have to be aware
that that’s happening. I do a lot of research
on these kind of words, and how they’re used, and how arguments actually
end up falling to pieces because of the mistaken
use of these words. Now, one final example
that I want to show you are what are called
racial fig leaves. I find this particularly
interesting because– ask yourself, would you
accept being called racist? Most people, even
when they are racist, do not like being
called racist. Most people do not
self-identify as racists. Some of the most appalling Nazis
do not identify as being racists. They wouldn’t say,
Yes, I’m a racist. Some would, but most wouldn’t. People are very resistant
to being called racist and we’re very resistant as a
society to calling people racist, but what that enables
people to do is to say explicitly things like,
I am not a racist. And then they say, But– And usually, what follows the
but is something deeply racist. And then they say things like,
I have black friends, but– And then they say something
that’s deeply offensive to black people, and they say,
I’m a tolerant person, and then they say something
deeply intolerant. Hey, I’m not saying all
aboriginals do thus and x, and then they continue to say,
All aboriginals do thus and so. Now, what’s going on here
is what I’m interested in. What happens is if you say,
I’m not a racist, but– – insert racist phrase here
– and then I say to you, That’s really racist,
people are able to use this I’m not a racist as
effectively a fig leaf. It covers their racism. That’s why we call them racist
fig leaves or racial fig leaves. What’s interesting about
that is it’s a way of using language to establish your
authenticity as an arguer or as a reasoner,
as a decent person. And then what that does is kind of
excuse everything that follows. To give an example, in
American presidential debates, Donald Trump says, Hey, I’m
not saying all Mexicans that are coming to this
country are bad, but they’re not
sending their best. He goes on from this to
then describe all Mexican immigrants coming to
the USA as rapists. Now, that’s a deeply
racist thing, but people were then able
to say in his defence, No. Look, Donald explicitly
said that he wasn’t racist, that he didn’t think
it was all Mexicans, and he’s not talking
about their ethnicity, he’s talking about
their actions. Now, what’s interesting to
me is how these work in arguments is to allow us
get-out clauses when we do something wrong that
would ordinarily enable us to say to somebody, that’s a really bad
piece of arguing, that’s a really bad
piece of reasoning and what you’re doing here
is socially questionable. This allows people to sort of back
away from what they actually said. It gives you a get-out clause. These things are
really interesting, and this is another way
that language is used and another way that we have
to be careful with language. To give you a couple
of quick conclusions, not that there’s really too
much to conclude here, and then if people have questions,
they can ask questions. The broad conclusion that I
want to draw from this is that we have to reason our
way around the world. We do that using language and
we do that by communicating with each other. If we’re going to
do this properly, if we’re going to be guided by
the facts and by proper reasons, then we need to do that by
coming to a better understanding of how words and
language affect us. By calling you a girl
rather than a woman, I have an impact on how
you understand yourself and how the world
understands you. And that, in some contexts
– in fact, many contexts – could be completely undermining
of your authority, and your intellect, and
your social standing. So if you’re a female and
somebody calls you a girl in a particular context, and you find that
that’s undermining you, then we need to
be aware of that. We need to stop using
that kind of language. What we need to do is come to
a proper understanding of how language affects us and
we need to ask ourselves, when we’re reasoning,
and we’re arguing, and we’re drawing conclusions
about the way the world is and what our place
within the world is, are we actually being convinced by
the facts here and by the logic? Is that what’s driving
our thinking? Or are we actually
being influenced by the types of words
that are used? Are we so opposed to refugees
because we’re using terms like immigrants and conflating
that with terms like terrorist, and criminals, and
smugglers, and this kind of thing? Is that driving our thinking
or are we just thinking about the facts behind this? Are we being influenced by
the types of words used and the language that
frames the debate or are we thinking about the facts
that are at the core of this? Now, what you can also do,
just as a matter of interest, is this is an election year, or at least the next four weeks
are going to be an election and are going to be about
the coming election. Now, some of the worst
examples of poor language use and problematic language
use come from politicians. Over the next few weeks, have
a look at how politicians speak and the language they
use to explain policy. You’ll find them saying things which sound like they’re
really big, right? We’re for a fair Australia. Which politician is going to
stand up and say, Not me. I’m not for a fairer Australia. Let’s have a less
equal society? No one says that, but what they
basically said is so vague and such a motherhood and
apple pie statement. It could mean anything. What it does is it
creates a hole for you to fill with whatever
your ideas are. A fairer Australia to you
may be a kind of Australia that somebody else would
completely be opposed to, but politicians have used
this kind of vague language, and it sounds like
they’ve said lots when really they’ve
said nothing. So have a listen over the next
few weeks to how they do that. Similarly, have a look
at advertising as well, and ask yourselves not simply
how are they using language to make me buy this product
or want to buy this product, but what does that kind
of language do to how we understand the world? Again, uses of terms like girl. I have small
daughter, she’s six, and when I watch the
advertising directed at her, what I see is a kind of a
strange use of language which isn’t really
suitable for six-year-olds and is probably much more suitable
for people in late adolescence. What this does is
kind of create a strange sexualisation
of small children. Just the language that’s
being used there, where my six-year-old daughter
has to think about toys and things in terms of how
they can make her into an object for other people to
approve of or disapprove of actually changes the way
we look at the world. We start to look at
six-year-old girls as objects, which is problematic to me. And there are lots of
instances like that. So it’s not just about
the words that you use but how that changes the way
we understand the world. Now, something else you can
also do is have a look at your own language and look at why you
choose the words that you do. Sometimes you don’t consciously
choose them at all, but sometimes you’ll find
yourself referring to groups of people, regardless of
their gender, as guys. Hey, guys. Guys is effectively
a masculine term, but why do we use it in this kind
of apparently gender-neutral way, and is it really
gender neutral? I’m not answering that
one way or the other. I know what I think,
but there are things that you can reflect on for
yourself, and ask, why do I come up
with these words? And what does that do
to the world around me? Why do I choose those words? Could I choose different ones? Those are the kinds of things. They’re not really conclusions, but they’re just
things to think about. I think about the
nature of language and what we do with it, and what it does to
the world around us, the world that we live in. Obviously, I’m British, and I’m
from an ethnic background. It’s probably not obvious. It’s not a visually
prominent ethnicity, but I’m from an ethnicity in
the UK, Roma gypsy background, and it’s largely
an illiterate one. There’s no tradition
of literacy at all. It’s a very oral tradition,
very verbal tradition. There’s a love of language
and there’s a love of people who can speak and who
do tell great tales. And we have a kind of a
distinct language of our own. I grew up around people
who were great– because they don’t read maps, they have to describe
everywhere that they go to. You have these rich
verbal traditions, and I’m quite convinced that
growing up around old people or older people who love
to sit around together and talk and reminisce
and kind of tell stories is deeply connected to
that love of language and being interested in why
language works the way it does, particularly because when
I took my Roma language with me into school I was
very quickly told by teachers that wasn’t a
legitimate language. That’s not how language is. That’s not proper English. That’s not how we speak. I always kind of felt confused
and bit irritated by that. That kind of background,
I think, is important. The thinking is, yes, because
the idea is that it’s– this connection is– we call it multi-modality. Your sensors are called
sensory modalities. We see things, we taste
things, we hear things. Now, think about when
something tastes horrible. You pinch your nose, right? When you close your eyes
and pinch your nose and you just try and swallow
the damn thing, right? What you’re trying
to do close off your other sensory modalities
to the taste. You stop the smell,
you stop the sight, and you just get on with it. That’s because the way
we experience the world isn’t through discrete– our senses being discrete and
separate from each other. They’re all kind of connected. The sound of something,
the name we give it– we attach to it, may
actually, the thinking is, feed into this cross-modal
experience we have of food and tastes. It may actually influence– if I call that
smooth thing kiki, there’s going to be something
jarring about that. It doesn’t feel right. If we do call it maluma,
then that just adds to the smooth, mellifluous, melting
taste of it, right? That’s the thinking. There needs to be
more research on it, but the thought is that it does
tap into that cross-modality. In some cases, they have. The research is quite recent
on this, and it’s ongoing. The pilot studies that have
been going on in Cambridge relating to these taste
and senses and so on – tastes and shapes research – definitely suggests that you
can improve the consistency with which people take
anti-cancer medications if you change the names. You think about the names
we give to medicine. It’s often quite daunting. They’re called something that
we can often barely pronounce. I’m not saying we call medicine
maluma, or kiki, or bouba, or whatever, but the thought
is you can change uptake, and the pilot study
suggests, yeah. I think it’s quite likely to
lead to a more widespread consideration of what we do
and don’t call these things.

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