A wug-shaped curve in sound symbolism: The case of Japanese Pokémon names
Shigeto Kawahara
December 2020

Whether linguistic patterns show cumulative effects or not is an issue that is currently debated in contemporary phonological studies. This paper attempts to shed new light on this debate from a novel perspective by studying sound symbolism, systematic associations between sounds and meanings. The current experiment shows that when Japanese speakers judge Pokémons’ evolution status based on nonce names, the judgments are affected both by their mora count and the presence of a voiced obstruent. The effects of mora count instantiate a case of counting cumulativity, while the interaction between these two factors instantiates ganging-up cumulativity. These two cumulative patterns observed in the current experiment together result in what Hayes (2020) refers to as “wug-shaped curves,” a quantitative signature predicted by MaxEnt. The paper shows that the experimental results can indeed be successfully modeled using MaxEnt, equipped with the sort of phonological constraints that have been used in the Optimality Theoretic research. I also examine Stochastic Optimality Theory in light of the current experimental results and show that this theory faces an interesting set of challenges. Finally, in this paper I make a novel methodological proposal for general phonological inquiry and sound symbolism research. The current study was inspired by Hayes (2020), a proposal made within formal phonology. The experiment ended up revealing important, hitherto understudied aspects of sound symbolism, and in turn, it revealed how cumulativity manifests itself in linguistic patterns. The current exploration thus shows by way of a case study that formal phonology and research on sound symbolism can mutually inform one another. [xxx This paper supersedes the paper that was uploaded as https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005160]
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005382
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Phonology 37(3):383-418
keywords: sound symbolism, maxent, stochastic ot, cumulativity, stochasticity, wug-shaped curves, pokémonastics, japanese, phonetics, phonology
previous versions: v2 [September 2020]
v1 [August 2020]
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