<![CDATA[For decades linguists have assumed that the words we use are for the most part arbitrary collections of sounds save for the onomatopoeic ones that can clearly be linked to a natural sound, such as “splash” or “moo”. These collections of sound, most believe, came after gestures and grunts that early humans possibly used to communicate with each other. Now a new study has the potential to overturn these long-held beliefs by demonstrating that people, at least English-speaking people, do not choose the sounds that form words arbitrarily but, rather, iconically. Marcus Perlman and Gary Lupyan from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Rick Dale, from the University of California, conducted an experiment in which undergraduate students from the University of California Santa Cruz were asked to play what the researchers call “vocal charades”. In this game, one half of the eighteen participants had to invent new words for eighteen common concepts, divided into nine pairs of antonyms, and the other half had to try and recognise the concept that each new word represented, the team writes in their paper. The antonym pairs were: attractive/ugly, bad/good, big/small, down/up, far/near, fast/slow, few/many, long/short, and rough/smooth. The word inventors, or vocalisers, as the team called them, were not actually allowed to use existing words but rather had to articulate any sort of sounds they wanted in order to express the concept. They could not use gestures or pointed facial expressions, even though they were face to face with their “guesser” partner. The vocaliser would utter a collection of sounds to express a concept, the guesser would try to guess it, then they would switch roles. Each round of vocalisation and guessing lasted for ten seconds or until the guesser had the right answer. When the researchers then analysed the results they found the rate of accurate answers was much higher than chance would yield. The overall accuracy in terms of proportion of concepts guessed was as high as 82.2%, and it increased as the number of rounds of guessing advanced, reaching more than 95% towards the tenth round. This strongly suggested the sounds that the vocalisers used were not arbitrary. In fact, acoustic analysis showed that they tried to convey the meaning of the concept via deliberate choice of pitch, duration, harmonicity, and noise. For example, a high degree of harmonicity was present in the sounds used to convey the concept of “smooth”, while noise was the dominant feature of “rough”. Sounds used to describe “up” had a rising pitch, while those chosen to convey “down” had a falling pitch, Science Mag reports. “Slow” was conveyed with sounds of longer duration and lower pitch, and the opposite was true for “fast”, where sounds were high-pitched and with a shorter duration. The results indicate a possibility that the evolution of spoken language features a considerable amount of iconicity. Such iconicity can also be observed in written scripts such as ancient Egyptian, Sumerian, and Chinese and, of course, in gestural languages, such as sign language, where the gestures used to convey the meaning of a concept often rely on similarity with the object or idea described. The researchers will continue their work in the field, to check whether the results are valid only for English speakers or for other languages as well. For more information: “Iconicity can ground the creation of vocal symbols” ]]>
The link For more information: “Iconicity can ground the creation of vocal symbols”the Royal Society Publishing takes you to Page Not Found.
Thanks, this is fixed now.