The influence of dialect in sound symbolic size perception

Andrew Shibata


Prior research on sound symbolism and referent object size establishes that words with front vowels are perceived to refer to smaller objects than do back vowels (Ohala 1997; Klink 2000). Some dialects of American English exhibit vowel movement along the front-back axis which may influence perceived object size. This study focuses on California English /u/-fronting (Hinton et al. 1987) and predicts that shifting from a standardly back vowel [u] to a more front vowel [ʉ] is paired with a shift from a large perceived object size to a smaller perceived object size. This paper describes two experiments in which participants either silently read (reading task) or listened (listening task) to stimulus words and rated perceived object size. California English speakers in the reading task experiment perceived words with /u/ to be smaller than did non-California English speakers. This result suggests that sound symbolic perception is sensitive to fine phonetic variability due to a person’s dialect.


sound symbolism; California English; dialect; sociophonetics; perception

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Copyright (c) 2018 Andrew Shibata

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