Japanese sound-symbolism facilitates word learning in English-speaking children

Katerina Kantartzis, Mutsumi Imai, Sotaro Kita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Citations (Scopus)


Sound-symbolism is the nonarbitrary link between the sound and meaning of a word. Japanese-speaking children performed better in a verb generalization task when they were taught novel sound-symbolic verbs, created based on existing Japanese sound-symbolic words, than novel nonsound-symbolic verbs (Imai, Kita, Nagumo, & Okada, 2008). A question remained as to whether the Japanese children had picked up regularities in the Japanese sound-symbolic lexicon or were sensitive to universal sound-symbolism. The present study aimed to provide support for the latter. In a verb generalization task, English-speaking 3-year-olds were taught novel sound-symbolic verbs, created based on Japanese sound-symbolism, or novel nonsound-symbolic verbs. English-speaking children performed better with the sound-symbolic verbs, just like Japanese-speaking children. We concluded that children are sensitive to universal sound-symbolism and can utilize it in word learning and generalization, regardless of their native language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-586
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Apr


  • Language acquisition
  • Language development
  • Mimetics
  • Sound-symbolism
  • Verb
  • Word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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