Parault, Susan Janeen
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Sound symbolism is the notion that the relationship between word sounds and word meaning is not arbitrary for all words, but rather that there are a number of words in the world's languages for which sounds and their symbols have some degree of correspondence. It has been theorized by some cognitive anthropologists that sound symbolism is a remnant of early languages that were much less complex and that these languages matched sounds and meaning. The present research is an interdisciplinary work examining the potential role sound symbolism may play in vocabulary development. This research investigates whether an implicit knowledge of sound symbolism could be a possible route to vocabulary learning. Findings from four separate studies suggest that sound symbolism does serve as a useful clue in vocabulary learning, with adult participants able to generate more correct definitions for sound symbolic words presented in isolation than for non-sound symbolic words. Further, a fifth study examined the effects of sound symbolic words embedded in context. The results of this study suggest that adult word learners are able to combine the sound symbolic information present in sound symbolic words with context information resulting in greater word learning than either sound symbolic information or contextual information alone. This research sets the stage for developmental studies intended to examine the effects of sound symbolism on children's word learning.