Articulatory features of phonemes pattern to iconic meanings: evidence from cross-linguistic ideophones

AbstractIconic words are known to exhibit an imitative relationship between a word and its referent. Many studies have worked to pinpoint sound-to-meaning correspondences for ideophones from different languages. The correspondence patterns show similarities across language, but what makes such language-specific correspondences universal, as iconicity claims to be, remains unclear. This could be due to a lack of consensus on how to describe and test the perceptuo-motor affordances that make an iconic word feel imitative to speakers. We created and analyzed a database of 1,888 ideophones across 13 languages, and found that 5 articulatory properties, physiologically accessible to all spoken language users, pattern according to semantic features of ideophones. Our findings pave the way for future research to utilize articulatory properties as a means to test and explain how iconicity is encoded in spoken language.

Return to previous page