Articulatory features of phonemes pattern to iconic meanings: Evidence from cross-linguistic ideophones


Iconic words are supposed to exhibit imitative relationships between their linguistic forms and their referents. Many studies have worked to pinpoint sound-to-meaning correspondences for ideophones from different languages. The correspondence patterns show similarities across languages, but what makes such language-specific correspondences universal, as iconicity claims to be, remains unclear. This could be due to a lack of consensus on how to describe and test the perceptuo-motor affordances that make an iconic word feel imitative to speakers. We created and analysed a database of 1,860 ideophones across 13 languages, and found that 7 articulatory features, physiologically accessible to all spoken language users, pattern according to semantic features of ideophones. Our findings pave the way for future research to utilize articulatory properties as a means to test and explain how iconicity is encoded in spoken language. The perspective taken here fits in with ongoing research of embodiment, motivation, and iconicity research, three major strands of research within Cognitive Linguistics. The results support that there is a degree of unity between the concepts of imitative communication and the spoken forms of through cross-domain mappings, which involve physical articulatory movement.

Cognitive Linguistics, (accepted)
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