15 August 2015

How symbolic are word sounds?

[via Slashdot] A recent study in Royal Society Open Science (featured in Science) discusses sound symbolism in the vocal representations for antonyms (similar to the kiki/bouba effect).

The news here is that the participants created their own "words" during a game of vocal charade and that they were able to communicate their meaning increasingly well in subsequent rounds. The made-up words were also identified by "naive listeners" (not involved in creating them) better than predicted by mere chance. Furthermore, the meaning of the vocalizations was correlated to some acoustic characteristics (e.g. the signals for "up" were reliably shorter, more intense, with higher pitch and pitch change than those for "down".)
On a completely unrelated note, the authors felt the need to warn the reader that:

"Unavoidably, as in similar semiotics experiments, our participants already spoke a language and thus came well acquainted with symbolic communication."

I have already written a few times about language symbolism, in the series on Genette's Mimologics (first part here) and also here and here.

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