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The role of sound symbolism in language learning

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date09/2012
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Number of pages13
Original languageEnglish


Certain correspondences between the sound and meaning of words can be observed in subsets of the vocabulary. These sound-symbolic relationships have been suggested to result in easier language acquisition, but previous studies have explicitly tested effects of sound symbolism on learning category distinctions but not on word learning. In 2 word learning experiments, we varied the extent to which phonological properties related to a rounded–angular shape distinction and we distinguished learning of categories from learning of individual words. We found that sound symbolism resulted in an advantage for learning categories of sound-shape mappings but did not assist in learning individual word meanings. These results are consistent with the limited presence of sound symbolism in natural language. The results also provide a reinterpretation of the role of sound symbolism in language learning and language origins and a greater specification of the conditions under which sound symbolism proves advantageous for learning. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)