- Wine and conversation, and: The linguistics of eating and drinking
These two books, one a revision and expansion of a 1983 study and the other an edited collection, explore core topics in the human experience of ingesting food and liquid, metaphorical extensions based on these activities, and (in Lehrer’s volume) the often metaphorical ways of communicating about the properties of a particular ingested liquid, that is, wine. Newman’s The linguistics of eating and drinkingfocuses on basic predicates for EAT and DRINK crosslinguistically, while Lehrer’s Wine and conversationconcerns the narrower but obviously enticing topic of English vocabulary relating to the enterprise and enjoyment of wine. Together and separately these two books can be viewed as exercises in what we might call ‘extended lexicography’. That is, they attempt to account in detail for the often idiosyncratic knowledge that native speakers of particular languages have about particular lexical items. Indeed, Newman’s introductory chapter, ‘A cross-linguistic overview of “eat” and “drink” ’ (1–26), notes that concepts like EAT and DRINK have not received much attention in previous linguistic literature because ‘of the relative neglect of the lexicon as a focus of interest in mainstream linguistics’ (23).
From the perspective of linguistic and anthropological-linguistic sciences, the topics and contexts of these two volumes contrast in various ways. Lehrer is primarily concerned with semantic dimensions of a very large set of English words, generally adjectival and often metaphorical; and whether members of speech and work communities share the same semantic knowledge when it comes to applying vocabulary to wines. The papers in Newman’s volume deal with fewer terms per language, but in addition to discussing meaning, they often explore morphosyntactic combinatorial properties (i.e. ‘parts of speech’ and ‘constructional’ properties) as well as points of historical development. The abundance and nature of English terms explored in Wine and conversationfirst almost certainly point to a large and lucrative industry, a variety of supporting enterprises (e.g. retail outlets, magazines), and to leisure activities that involve considerable discretionary money (e.g. wine tastings, dinner parties). Though languages of economically developed cultures (e.g. Japanese, Korean, English) do figure in The linguistics of eating and drinking, most chapters focus on little-studied languages whose modern-day speakers are more likely just trying to find their daily bread (though, of course, most if not all also have some vocabulary relevant to intake of alcohol). [End Page 963]
A further difference in the volumes concerns theoretical perspectives. Wine and conversationis grounded in an essentially structuralist (Saussurean) approach to word meaning, in which words are viewed as having the meaning they do because of how they contrast with other words within a particular semantic field. The book also reports experiments on the extent to which vocabulary meaning is shared and reliably applied across selected English-speaking communities. The experiments were conducted in the 1980s and more recently in two locations within the US and across experts and nonexperts. In contrast, most articles in The linguistics of eating and drinkingtend toward a cognitive semantics approach, either directly grounded in or roughly compatible with George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s (1999) embodied semantics and processes of metaphorical extension, and Langackerian concepts of profiling, prototypicality, and schematicity (Langacker 1987). In an earlier 1997 article, Newman worked out a physiologically grounded, well-embodied understanding of the (linguistically relevant) stages involved in human eating and drinking. Many individual chapters in Newman’s volume relate their analyses to these stages and to Lakoff and Johnson’s approach to meaning and meaning extensions. The major departure from this is A nnaW ierzbicka’s chapter, ‘All people eat and drink. Does this mean that “eat” and “drink” are universal human concepts?’ (65–89); she argues for a ‘natural semantic metalanguage’ (NSM) approach, developed to deal with cross-language lexical variation in a fashion unbiased by an English or Eurocentric metalanguage. This short review...