PLOS ONE publishes sound symbolism paper by Haynie, Bowern, and LaPalombara

May 6, 2014

Postdoc Hannah Haynie, associate professor Claire Bowern, and alumna Hannah LaPalombara (BA ’13) have published a paper titled “Sound symbolism in the languages of Australia” in the online-only open access science journal PLOS ONEThey conducted a statistical investigation of the evidence for several common patterns of sound symbolism, using data from a sample of 120 Australian languages. The patterns examined in the paper include the association of meanings denoting “smallness” or “nearness” with front vowels or palatal consonants, and the association of meanings denoting “largeness” or “distance” with back vowels or velar consonants. Their results provide evidence for the expected associations of vowels and consonants with meanings of “smallness” and “proximity” in Australian languages. However, the patterns uncovered in this region are more complicated than predicted. Several sound-meaning relationships are only significant for segments in prominent positions in the word, and the prevailing mapping between vowel quality and magnitude meaning cannot be characterized by a simple link between gradients of magnitude and vowel F2, contrary to the claims of previous studies.

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