How Words Have Shape
V.S. Ramachandran once asked American college students and Tamil speakers in India to each interpret these shapes. He wanted to know which one they thought was “bouba” and which one they thought was “kiki”.
98% of them said that bouba was round and kiki was spiky. Later studies showed that even young children who hadn’t yet learned to read assigned the same names to the shapes.
It appears there’s something about the evolution of language that says names for objects are not arbitrary.
Check out this TEDx talk about the life of the mind lived through noise. Very cool stuff.
(via Science-Based Life)
No. Just no. There is no connection between the way word is pronounced and its meaning. If it was the case, all basic adjectives (such as round, soft, sharp, etc.) would sound the same in every language, which is not the case!!!!
Compare the English “soft” with the Czech “měkký” and the Finnish “pehmeä”. If names for objects or basic concepts were not arbitrary, then all these three adjectives would have to sound the same, which they don’t.
Sure, there are onomatopoeic words, but even those culture specific. For example, the sound of a clock may be tick tock in English, dī dā in Mandarin, or katchin katchin in Japanese (source: Wikipedia).
In the above study, the word “kiki” comprises of voiceless consonants /k/ and vowels, whereas “bouba” comprises of voiced consonants /b/ and vowels. Both /b/ and /k/ are stop consonants. The following explanation is from wikipedia:
Stop, an oral occlusive, where there is occlusion (blocking) of the oral vocal tract, and no nasal air flow, so the air flow stops completely. Examples include English /p t k/ (voiceless) and /b d ɡ/ (voiced). If a consonant is voiced, the voicing is the only sound made during occlusion; if it is voiceless, a stop is completely silent. What we hear as a /p/ and /k/ is the effect that the onset of the occlusion has on the preceding vowel, as well as the release burst and its effect on the following vowel.
In other words, the voiceless consonant /k/ sounds sharper, more explosive when compared to the voiced consonant /b/ which sounds softer and rounder, because they are pronounced differently. However, these are made-up words. They have nothing to do with how language speakers assigning meaning to concepts, i.e. create new words.