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What do English speakers know about gera-gera and yota-yota?: A cross-linguistic investigation of mimetic words for laughing and walking

Iwasaki, Noriko and Vinson, David P. and Vigliocco, Gabriella (2007) 'What do English speakers know about gera-gera and yota-yota?: A cross-linguistic investigation of mimetic words for laughing and walking.' Japanese-Language Education around the Globe, 17 . pp. 53-78.

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Abstract

The relation between word form and meaning is considered arbitrary; however, Japanese mimetic words, giseigo and gitaigo , are exceptions. For giseigo (words mimicking voices), there is a direct resemblance(‘iconicity’) between the sound of the word and the sound it refers to; for gitaigo (words that mimic manners/states) there is a symbolic relationship (‘sound symbolism’) between the sound and the manner/state to which the word refers. While native speakers intuitively recognize these relationships, it is questionable whether speakers of other languages are able to access the meaning of Japanese mimetic words from their sounds. In the current study, we asked native English speakers with no prior experience with the Japanese language to listen to Japanese mimetic words for laughing (giseigo) and for walking (gitaigo), and rate each word’s meaning on semantic differential scales (e.g.,“GRACEFUL-VULGAR”(laughing,“GRACEFUL-CLUMSY”(walking). We compared English and Japanese speakers’ ratings and found that English speakers construed many of the features of laughing in a similar manner as Japanese native speakers (e.g., words containing /a/ were rated as more amused, cheerful, nice and pleasant laughs). They differed only with regard to a few sound-meaning relationships of an evaluative nature (e.g., words for laughing containing /u/ were rated as more feminine and graceful, and those containing /e/ were rated as less graceful and unpleasant). In contrast, for the words referring to walking, English speakers’ ratings differed greatly from native Japanese speakers’. Native Japanese speakers rated words beginning with voiced consonants as referring to a big person walking with big strides, and words beginning with voiceless consonants as more even-paced, feminine and formal walking; English speakers were sensitive only to the relation between voiced consonants and a big person walking. Hence, some sound-meaning associations were language-specific. This study also confirmed the more conventional and lexicalized nature of the mimetic words of manner.

Item Type: Articles
Keywords: Onomatopoeia, mimetics, sound symbolism, iconicity
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of Linguistics
Depositing User: Noriko Iwasaki
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2009 10:31
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/6436

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