Japanese sound symbolism facilitates verb learning in English speaking children

Abstract

Sound symbolism is the non-arbitrary link between the sound of a word and its meaning. Imai et al. (2008) showed that Japanese speaking children benefited from the presence of sound symbolism when learning novel verbs. However, Japanese is a language rich in sound symbolic elements, but English on the other hand is not. The present study investigated whether English-speaking three-year olds can benefit from a cross-linguistically recognisable sound symbolic link between a novel word and its referent in word learning. The children were taught a novel verb and asked to generalise this to a new situation. It was found that English-speaking 3-year-olds peformed better when the taught verb and the target action matched sound symbolically. This suggests that sound symbolism can facilitate word learning regardless of the language the children are learning.


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