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Contiguity-based sound iconicity: The meaning of words resonates with phonetic properties of their immediate verbal contexts

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Auracher,  Jan
Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Menninghaus,  Winfried
Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Auracher, J., Scharinger, M., & Menninghaus, W. (2019). Contiguity-based sound iconicity: The meaning of words resonates with phonetic properties of their immediate verbal contexts. PLOS ONE, 14(5), e0216930. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216930.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-CBD0-D
Abstract
We tested the hypothesis that phonosemantic iconicity––i.e., a motivated resonance of sound and meaning––might not only be found on the level of individual words or entire texts, but also in word combinations such that the meaning of a target word is iconically expressed, or highlighted, in the phonetic properties of its immediate verbal context. To this end, we extracted single lines from German poems that all include a word designating high or low dominance, such as large or small, strong or weak, etc. Based on insights from previous studies, we expected to find more vowels with a relatively short distance between the first two formants (low formant dispersion) in the immediate context of words expressing high physical or social dominance than in the context of words expressing low dominance. Our findings support this hypothesis, suggesting that neighboring words can form iconic dyads in which the meaning of one word is sound-iconically reflected in the phonetic properties of adjacent words. The construct of a contiguity-based phono-semantic iconicity opens many venues for future research well beyond lines extracted from poems.