Congenitally Deaf Children Generate Iconic Vocalizations to Communicate Magnitude

Abstract

From an early age, people exhibit strong links between certain visual (e.g. size) and acoustic (e.g. duration) dimensions. Do people instinctively extend these crossmodal correspondences to vocalization? We examine the ability of congenitally deaf Chinese children and young adults (age M = 12.4 years, SD = 3.7 years) to generate iconic vocalizations to distinguish items with contrasting magnitude (e.g., big vs. small ball). Both deaf and hearing (M = 10.1 years, SD = 0.83 years) participants produced longer, louder vocalizations for greater magnitude items. However, only hearing participants used pitch—higher pitch for greater magnitude – which counters the hypothesized, innate size “frequency code”, but fits with Mandarin language and culture. Thus our results show that the translation of visible magnitude into the duration and intensity of vocalization transcends auditory experience, whereas the use of pitch appears more malleable to linguistic and cultural influence.


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