The facilitatory role of sound symbolism in infant word learning

Abstract

Sound symbolism or the nonarbitrary link between language sound and meaning are commonly found across many languages of the world. A well-known example is the association between rounded vs. angular shapes and labels (i.e., Köhler, 1929/1947). Previous research has shown that sound symbolic words play facilitative role for preschool children’s novel verb learning, helping children identify what aspects of motion events should be mapped to verbs. In this research, we explore whether sound symbolism may facilitate language learning in human infants who have just begun to learn word meanings. Sound symbolism may be a useful cue particularly at the earliest stages of word learning, because this cue seems to be available without needing prior word learning experience. Using a habituation paradigm and a Bayesian model-based analysis, we demonstrated that 14-month-old infants could detect Köhler-type (1947) shape-sound symbolism, and could use this sensitivity in their effort to establish the word-referent association.


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