A tripartite trans-modal relationship among sounds, shapes and emotions: A case of abrupt modulation


The current project is a case study–and an extension–of the traditional investigation into sound symbolism (Hinton et al., 1994). Several studies have shown that certain sounds evoke images of particular shapes; for example, oral stop consonants are often associated with angular shapes, whereas sonorants (nasals, liquids, and glides) are associated with round shapes (Berlin, 2006; Köhler, 1947). Berlin (2006) attributes these associations to the similarities between abrupt acoustic amplitude modulation of stop consonants and abrupt change of the directions of lines, i.e., abrupt visual changes. In this study, we extend the stop-angular sound symbolic relation to the domain of emotions. Stops not only evoke the images of angular shapes, but are also associated with emotions that involve abrupt onsets. We further show that angular shapes themselves are associated with such emotions. Our three experiments thus establish a tripartite trans-modal symbolic relationship among three domains of cognition (sounds, shapes, and emotions). As an additional general implication, we argue that our experimental results support acoustic, rather than articulatory, bases of sound symbolism.

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