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Conference Paper

When high pitches sound low: Children's acquisition of space-pitch metaphors


Majid,  Asifa
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Center for Language Studies , External Organizations;

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Dolscheid, S., Hunnius, S., & Majid, A. (2015). When high pitches sound low: Children's acquisition of space-pitch metaphors. In D. C. Noelle, R. Dale, A. S. Warlaumont, J. Yoshimi, T. Matlock, C. D. Jennings, et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2015) (pp. 584-598). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. Retrieved from https://mindmodeling.org/cogsci2015/papers/0109/index.html.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0026-CE82-9
Some languages describe musical pitch in terms of spatial height; others in terms of thickness. Differences in pitch metaphors also shape adults’ nonlinguistic space-pitch representations. At the same time, 4-month-old infants have both types of space-pitch mappings available. This tension between prelinguistic space-pitch associations and their subsequent linguistic mediation raises questions about the acquisition of space-pitch metaphors. To address this issue, 5-year-old Dutch children were tested on their linguistic knowledge of pitch metaphors, and nonlinguistic space-pitch associations. Our results suggest 5-year-olds understand height-pitch metaphors in a reversed fashion (high pitch = low). Children displayed good comprehension of a thickness-pitch metaphor, despite its absence in Dutch. In nonlinguistic tasks, however, children did not show consistent space-pitch associations. Overall, pitch representations do not seem to be influenced by linguistic metaphors in 5-year-olds, suggesting that effects of language on musical pitch arise rather late during development.