The sound of round: evaluating the sound-symbolic role of consonants in the classic Takete-Maluma phenomenon

Can J Exp Psychol. 2011 Jun;65(2):115-24. doi: 10.1037/a0022268.


Köhler (1929) famously reported a bias in people's matching of nonsense words to novel object shapes, pointing to possible naïve expectations about language structure. The bias has been attributed to synesthesia-like coactivation of motor or somatosensory areas involved in vowel articulation and visual areas involved in perceiving object shape (Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001). We report two experiments testing an alternative that emphasizes consonants and natural semantic distinctions flowing from the auditory perceptual quality of salient acoustic differences among them. Our experiments replicated previous studies using similar word and image materials but included additional conditions swapping the consonant and vowel contents of words; using novel, randomly generated words and images; and presenting words either visually or aurally. In both experiments, subjects' image-matching responses showed evidence of tracking the consonant content of words. We discuss the possibility that vowels and consonants both play a role and consider some methodological factors that might influence their relative effects. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Phonetics*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Semantics*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Students
  • Universities
  • Vocabulary