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15-06-2016 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2017

Psychological Research 4/2017

Sharp and round shapes of seen objects have distinct influences on vowel and consonant articulation

Psychological Research > Uitgave 4/2017
L. Vainio, M. Tiainen, K. Tiippana, A. Rantala, M. Vainio


The shape and size-related sound symbolism phenomena assume that, for example, the vowel [i] and the consonant [t] are associated with sharp-shaped and small-sized objects, whereas [ɑ] and [m] are associated with round and large objects. It has been proposed that these phenomena are mostly based on the involvement of articulatory processes in representing shape and size properties of objects. For example, [i] might be associated with sharp and small objects, because it is produced by a specific front-close shape of articulators. Nevertheless, very little work has examined whether these object properties indeed have impact on speech sound vocalization. In the present study, the participants were presented with a sharp- or round-shaped object in a small or large size. They were required to pronounce one out of two meaningless speech units (e.g., [i] or [ɑ]) according to the size or shape of the object. We investigated how a task-irrelevant object property (e.g., the shape when responses are made according to size) influences reaction times, accuracy, intensity, fundamental frequency, and formant 1 and formant 2 of vocalizations. The size did not influence vocal responses but shape did. Specifically, the vowel [i] and consonant [t] were vocalized relatively rapidly when the object was sharp-shaped, whereas [u] and [m] were vocalized relatively rapidly when the object was round-shaped. The study supports the view that the shape-related sound symbolism phenomena might reflect mapping of the perceived shape with the corresponding articulatory gestures.

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