Sound-symbolism: A Piece in the Puzzle of Word Learning

  • Susan J. Parault
  • Paula J. Schwanenflugel
Original Article


Sound-symbolism is the idea that the relationship between word sounds and word meaning is not arbitrary for all words, but rather that there are subsets of words in the world’s languages for which sounds and their symbols have some degree of correspondence. The present research investigates sound-symbolism as a possible route to the learning of an unknown word’s meaning. Three studies compared the guesses that adult participants made regarding the potential meanings of sound-symbolic and non-sound symbolic obsolete words. In each study, participants were able to generate better definitions for sound-symbolic words when compared to non-sound symbolic words. Participants were also more likely to recognize the meanings of sound symbolic words. The superior performance on sound-symbolic words held even when definitions generated on the basis of sound association were eliminated. It is concluded that sound symbolism is a word property that influences word learning.


Sound symbolism Vocabulary development Word learning 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of EducationUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.University of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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