Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Inventing new words - iconic sounds are used.

Perlman and collaborators find that students inventing new words use certain types of vocalizations with certain words. For example, made-up words for “up” have a rising pitch, words for “down” have a falling pitch. “Slow” has a long duration and a low pitch, whereas “fast” has a short duration and high pitch. And “smooth” has a high degree of harmonicity, whereas “rough” has a high degree of the opposite quality—noise. This suggests that vocal communication systems can originate from spontaneously created iconic characteristics of sound, just as gestural communication systems can originate from spontaneously created iconic gestures. The chart shows the data describing characteristics of words invented for 18 contrasting ideas: up, down, big, small, good, bad, fast, slow, far, near, few, many, long, short, rough, smooth, attractive, and ugly.

The plots show the acoustic characteristics of each of the 18 meanings. The five variables are represented on the x-axis: D, duration; H, harmonics to noise ratio; I, intensity; P, pitch; C, pitch change. All values are normalized (z-scored) for each of the five measures. The red line shows the median and the blue box spans the first and third quartiles. The up and down arrows indicate variables that differed reliably between antonymic meanings. For example, vocalizations for bad differed from those for good by having a lower harmonics to noise ratio and pitch. The variables marked with arrows were the basis for the iconic template of each meaning.

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