This time, I received answers from four people, and while some names matched mine, no one got everything matched!
The original names that inspired me and the reasons were, in order:
- Flissil: sounds fluid and at a loss (1/4 matched this name)
- Horgous: sounds hollow and lonely (2/4 matched this name)
- Axittic: sounds like an axis + excited (0/4 matched this name)
All in all, this week’s results showed that there are cases when it’s difficult to tell the names (3/12 answers matched the original), unlike last week’s (all 12/12 answers matched the original).
Here are some observations on individual responses:
- It was interesting to note that when you focused on features similar to me, you also guessed the same word. For example, there was an answer that said Flissig is like “Flüssig, can’t stand, erect, define”, which was very similar to my original intention.
- Also, when you focused on different features of either the word or the drawing, you guessed different words. For example, while the second drawing was also said to be “Horgous” because it was a “male name”, it was also named “Axittic” by some of you because it has a stick – an axis.
- Finally, there were times that the drawing itself felt different to you than to me, like the last one. I was thinking of a whirling axis with flickering lights, and while one of you suggested it looks “proud and gorgeous”, many of you instead suggested it looked “watery”, “impermanent, changing being, like flowers wilting in a pot”.
In the original study, participants chose among 4 names. The original name was chosen ~31% of the times, which was higher than the opposite (~21%), unrelated (~24%) or similar (~24%) names. So the difference was statistically significant but not huge (~1.3x to 1.5x more likely to choose the original name than others), which was consistent with what we have seen in our two surveys.
What connects the nonword names to made-up drawings at all? The study suggests that certain properties, like
- round vs. spiky
- large vs. small
- masculine vs. feminine
are inferred consistently across participants from either a word or a drawing, and those properties may have helped people identify the original name that inspired a drawing. For example, words like “heonia” were rated feminine, and elicited drawings that looked feminine. Also, in other studies,
- “mal” was more associated with a large table than “mil”
- “bouba” was associated with a round shape whereas “kiki” was associated with an angular shape.
Some sound-meaning associations are found across different language families, which is called “absolute iconicity“. For example:
Not every language has such associations, but those are found more often than by chance, even across different language families.
Also, many languages use characteristics of sounds to convey relative meanings, which is called “relative iconicity“. To list some in the paper:
- “p” vs “b” and “t” vs “d”: mass (Siwu: tsaratsa, “a light person walking quickly” vs. dzradzra, “a heavy person walking quickly”)
- “ε” vs “o”: size (Ewe: lεgεε, “slim” vs. logoo, “fat” )
I imagine it would be nice if there were a systematic map showing the relative iconicity found across the world. That would not only be fascinating to behold, but also be useful for naming and drawing new characters for a picture book!