The New Yorker, all rights reserved

Senior Seminar: Wine, Talk, and Winetalk

Winter 2007

When and Where: alternate Thursdays (starting 11 January), Humanities and Social Sciences 7077

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen ( (omit text in caps, which reduces automated spam))
office: (858) 534 6812

Office hours: Tuesdays 1:30-3:00, in H&SS 8072 (and by appointment; please feel free to call)


People use a staggering variety of language to talk about wine and their experiences drinking wine. These include some relatively straightforward descriptions (tannic, concentrated, pineapple flavored) but also some that seem extremely unstraightforward (from the cartoon above, naive, without breeding, presumptuous, etc.). What, exactly, is going on in the use of such language? Do people manage to communicate any information by its use? If so, what? How do their descriptive choices interact with beliefs about the categories of wine they taste?

In this senior seminar we'll be investigating these and related questions about wine, wine perception, and talk about wine by reading together Adrienne Lehrer's classic, Wine and Conversation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983).

Most of the issues we'll study arise in other domains of sensory experience, and so are not unique to wine. But focussing on wine is convenient -- partly because there are large and well-labeled corpora of talk about wine, and partly because it will be useful to constrain our set of examples to a single domain with which we all have some experience.

Course Expectations

Students will be expected to read the assigned chapters, come to discussion, and participate in discussion.

In addition, every student will be required to bring a written question (maximum 4 sentences) raised by the reading to every session after the first. These will form the basis of the class discussion, so it is essential that they be handed in every meeting.


All senior seminars are graded P/NP. You must hand in written discussion questions at every meeting (after the first one) to receive a P in the course.

Tentative Schedule

11 JanuaryIntroduction, planningNone
25 JanuaryTheory: Wine and SemanticsLehrer, ch1-3
8 FebruaryExperiment: Wine and SubjectsLehrer, ch4-8
22 FebruaryCommunication: Wine and Wine TalkLehrer, ch9-11
1 MarchCatchup and ConclusionsNone