When the Sound-Symbolism Effect Disappears: The Differential Role of Order and Timing in Presenting Visual and Auditory Stimuli


Kohler’s observation that most people match pseudoword “maluma” to curvy objects and “takete” to spiky objects represented the well-known example of sound symbolism—the idea that link between sound and meaning of words was not entirely arbitrary. This study was aimed to examine the existence of sound symbolism in natural language and to consider the potential role of some aspects of experimental design and stimuli features which had not been considered in experimental studies so far. Three experiments were done in order to explore the influence of visual information on language processing. Visual lexical decision task with the sharp-sounding and soft-sounding verbal stimuli presented within the spiky and curvy frames was used. Reaction time analysis in these three experiments highlighted additional aspects of visual and language processing which influence the potential interplay of these two processes. As results revealed, when visual information preceded presentation of verbal material for approximately 1000 ms or when visual and verbal material were presented simultaneously, the processing was being delayed and the interactions of these two processes occurred. The pattern of obtained results gave further support to the idea of sound symbolism as pre-semantic phenomenon and the hypothesis that the effect emerged from very early stages of language processing.

Share and Cite:

Sučević, J. , Janković, D. & Ković, V. (2013). When the Sound-Symbolism Effect Disappears: The Differential Role of Order and Timing in Presenting Visual and Auditory Stimuli. Psychology, 4, 11-18. doi: 10.4236/psych.2013.47A002.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Bremner, A., Caparos, S., Davidoff, J., Fockert, J., Linnell, K., & Spence, C. (2013). “Bouba” and “Kiki” in Namibia: A remote culture makes similar shape-sound matches, but different shape-taste matches to Westerners. Cognition, 126, 165-172. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2012.09.007
[2] Ciccotosto, N. (1991). Sound symbolism in natural language. Dissertation Abstracts International, 53, 541.
[3] Davis, R. (1961). The fitness of names to drawings: A cross-cultural study in Tanganyika. British Journal of Psychology, 52, 259-268. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1961.tb00788.x
[4] Diffloth, G. (1994). I:big, a:small. In L. Hinton, J. Nichols, & J. Ohala (Eds.), Sound symbolism (pp. 107-114). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[5] Ilic, O., Kovic, V., & Jankovic, D. (2012). Crossmodal correspondences in natural language: Distribution of phonemes and consonant-vowel patterns in Serbian words denoting round and angular objects. 13th International Multisensory Forum, Oxford.
[6] Jankovic, D., & Markovic, S. (2001). Takete-Maluma phenomenon. Perception, 30, ECVP 2001 Abstracts Supplement. doi:10.1068/v010131
[7] Jankovic, D., Vuckovic, V., & Radakovic, N. (2005). Consonants in the Takete-Maluma phenomenon: Manner and place of articulation. Perception, 34, ECVP 2005 Abstracts Supplement. doi:10.1068/v050611
[8] Kohler, W. (1929). Gestalt psychology, an introduction to new concepts in modern psychology. New York: Liveright.
[9] Kovic, V., Plunkett, K., & Westermann, G. (2010). The shape of words in the brain. Cognition, 114, 19-28. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2009.08.016
[10] Kovic, V., & Pejovic, J. (2012). Now you see it, now you don’t: Design dependant sound symbolism effect in categorization studies. 13th International Multisensory Forum, Oxford.
[11] Maurer, D., Pathman, T., & Mondloch, C. J. (2006). The shape of boubas: Sound-shape correspondences in toddlers and adults. Developmental Science, 9, 316-322. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2006.00495.x
[12] Nielsen, A., & Rendall, D. (2011). The sound of round: Evaluating the sound-symbolic role of consonants in the classic Takete-Maluma phenomenon. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65, 115-124. doi:10.1037/a0022268
[13] Padraic, M., & Christiansen, M. H. (2006). Why form-meaning mappings are not entirely arbitrary in language. The 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Vancouver.
[14] Padraic, M., Christiansen, M. H., & Fitneva, S. A. (2011). The arbitrariness of the sign: Learning advantages from the structure of the vocabulary. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140, 325-347. doi:10.1037/a0022924
[15] Parault, S. J., & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2006). Sound-symbolism: A piece in the puzzle of word learning. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 35, 329-351. doi:10.1007/s10936-006-9018-7
[16] Parise, C. V., & Spence, C. (2012). Audiovisual crossmodal correspondences and sound symbolism: A study using the implicit association test. Experimental Brain Research, 220, 319-333. doi:10.1007/s00221-012-3140-6
[17] Plato (1998). Cratylus. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company.
[18] Ramachandran, V. S., & Hubbard, E. M. (2001). Synaesthesia—A window into perception, thought and Language. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 3-34.
[19] Rogers, S. K., & Ross, A. S. (1975). A cross cultural test of the Maluma-Takete phenomenon. Perception, 4, 105. doi:10.1068/p040105
[20] Sapir, E. (1929). A study in phonetic symbolism. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 12, 225-239. doi:10.1037/h0070931
[21] Saussure, F. D. (1959). Course in general linguistics. New York: Philosophical Library.
[22] Spector, F., & Maurer, D. (2009). Synesthesia: A new approach to understanding the development of perception. Developmental Psychology, 45, 175-189. doi:10.1037/a0014171
[23] Westbury, C. (2005). Implicit sound symbolism in lexical access: Evidence from an interference task. Brain & Language, 93, 10-19. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2004.07.006

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.