Cuteness modulates size sound symbolism at its extremes


Despite the rapidly growing body of research on sound symbolism, one issue that remains understudied is whether different types of sensory information interact in their sound symbolic effects. The experimental study reported here consisted of two tasks and focused on one such potential interaction: size associations and cuteness. First, a forced-choice task was conducted in which size ratings were elicited for pseudowords containing different vowels and consonants. The pseudowords were introduced as names of alien creatures, which were used as visual stimuli in the experiment. Second, the cuteness of alien creatures was assessed in a judgement task. Both tasks were completed by the same group of German speakers. In line with previous research, /aː/ was associated with largeness and /iː/ was associated with smallness. Further, we found that cuteness modulates size associations in /aː/ and /iː/. For /aː/ judged size increased, while for /iː/ judged size decreased with increasing cuteness. Regarding consonants, we found that /ʁ/ evoked higher size associations than other consonants under investigation. Interactions of cuteness and consonants did not reach significance. Our findings call for the integration of other possible factors and features that might show sound symbolic effects or interactions with such in sound symbolism research.

Open Linguistics