The Specificity of Sound Symbolic Correspondences in Spoken Language Open Access

Tzeng, Christina Y. (2011)

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The Specificity of Sound Symbolic Correspondences in Spoken Language
By Christina Y. Tzeng
Sound symbolism, or non-arbitrary correspondences between the sound of a word
and its meaning, appears to be an inherent property of natural language. Although
previous research suggests that listeners are sensitive to sound-to-meaning
correspondences, little is known about the specificity of these mappings. The present
study investigated whether sound symbolic properties correspond to specific meanings,
or whether these properties extend to other semantic dimensions as well. Native English-
speaking adults heard sound symbolic foreign words for four dimensional adjective pairs
( big/small, round/pointy, fast/slow, moving/still), and for each foreign word, chose which
of two English antonyms was its correct translation. Choice dimension either matched or
mismatched the meaning dimension from which the word was drawn. Participants
reliably matched foreign words to their correct meanings, replicating the finding that
listeners utilize sound-to-meaning correspondences to infer the meanings of unfamiliar
words across unrelated languages. Foreign words were also mapped to related semantic
dimensions, suggesting that sound symbolic properties also facilitate word-to-meaning
mappings across a range of associated and co-varying dimensions. However, mappings to
correct meanings were more consistent than for mismatched dimensions, suggesting
overall specificity in sound-to-meaning mappings. That sound symbolic properties elicit
agreement regarding meaning within mismatched dimensions may be a product of
overlapping semantic features across these dimensions.

The Specificity of Sound Symbolic Correspondences in Spoken Language
Christina Y. Tzeng
B.A., Columbia University, 2009
Advisor: Lynne C. Nygaard, Ph.D.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the
James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies of Emory University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
in Psychology

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Sound symbolism and word learning 5

Specificity of sound symbolic correspondences 6

Experiment 1 8

Methods 9

Participants 9

Stimuli 9

Design and Procedure 11

Results and Discussion 11

Experiment 2 13

Methods 14

Participants 14

Stimuli 14

Design 14

Procedure 15

Results and Discussion 16

Specificity 18

Valence 19

General Discussion 21

Sound symbolism and organization of semantic space 22

Mechanisms underlying sensitivity to sound symbolism 26

References 30

Tables 38

Figure Captions 40

Figures 41

Appendix 48

About this Master's Thesis

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