An Experimental Verification of Some Cross-linguistic Sound Symbolisms

  • David Ellingson Eddington Department of Linguistics, Brigham Young University, United States
Keywords: sound symbolism, experimental approach, English, Spanish


A recent investigation of 6452 languages (Blasi et al., 2016) uncovered a number of cross-linguistic correspondences between speech sounds and meaning. For example, the phone [z] was associated with the meaning ‘star.’ In the present study, 16 of these sound symbolisms were tested by presenting English and Spanish speakers with pairs of nonce words along with a definition of the words. Their task was to choose the word that sounded best with the meaning given. One member of the pair of words contained phones found to be associated with the meaning of the word while the other did not. For instance, participants were asked to choose between [zolz] and [folf] as the word they felt was most likely to mean ‘star. ‘ Seven of the sound and meaning correspondences observed in the study by Blasi et al. (2016) were corroborated by both Spanish and English speakers. Three additional sound correspondences were only significant in one of the experimental languages.


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How much each predicted test word deviates from the chance 50% level for English speakers