Wiggins: Eating sounds: At the edges of language, food, and bodies

As part of the Bayreuth Food and Language lecture series, Wiggins gave a talk on “Eating sounds: At the edges of language, food, and bodies”, October 29 2021.


The sounds we make while eating, or when approaching food as an edible substance, are a ubiquitous but often overlooked phenomenon. Considered as being at the edges of languages and ignored by several disciplines, they offer enormous potential for understanding the connection between food, language, and bodies. It is the occurrence of these sound objects during social interaction around food that is of particular concern here. In this talk, I will discuss the analysis of three sound objects associated with eating ­­– gustatory mmms, lip-smacks, and disgust markers (e.g. ‘eugh!’) – as part of research for the non-lexical vocalisations project at Linköping University (https://nonlexicalvocalizations.com/). Features of their delivery, from prosody to facial expressions, will be considered alongside the social implications of these sounds. It will be argued that it is the semantic ambiguity and prosodic malleability of eating sounds that makes them so robust in interaction. Their embodied production implies a gustatory interiority while also orienting to the social interaction and as such they bridge the gap between individual bodies and collaborative eating practices. It is perhaps at the edges of language that we most clearly see what happens when food is on its way to transgressing the boundary between the external and the internal.

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