The Bouba Effect: Sound-Shape Iconicity in Iterated and Implicit Learning

John Matthew JonesUniversity College London, London, United Kingdom
David VinsonUniversity College London, London, United Kingdom
Nourane ClostreUniversity College London, London, United Kingdom
Alex Lau ZhuUniversity College London, London, United Kingdom
Julio SantiagoUniversidad de Granada, Granada, Spain
Gabriella ViglioccoUniversity College London, London, United Kingdom

Abstract

Although wordforms are often arbitrarily linked to their meaning, many exhibit iconicity (resemblance between form and meaning). This is especially visible in the lexica of non-Indo-European languages and signed languages. Iconicity has been argued to play a role in grounding linguistic form to real-world experience, rendering language more learnable (Perniss & Vigliocco, in press). Here we examine sound-shape iconicity, the ‘kiki-bouba’ effect, i.e. the tendency to associate bouba-type labels with round shapes, and kiki-type labels with spiky shapes. In a first experiment we show that this iconicity emerges in the course of iterated learning (presumably because it renders labels more learnable). However, it only emerges for the mapping between round shapes and bouba-type labels. In a second experiment (using cross-situational learning, see Monaghan et al., 2012) greater learnability is observed for mappings of the bouba-to-round type but not of the kiki-to-spiky type. We discuss possible mechanisms underlying this difference.

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