[PS-1.27] How are sound symbolism and phonological discriminability related in category learning

Lalic, B. 1 , Stules, S. 2 & Kovic, V. 1

1 University of Belgrade, Laboratory for Neuro-cognition and applied cognition
2 Division of Psychology, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Previous research has shown that labels are learned better when they are sound symbolically congruent with their meanings (e.g., bota-bota/nosu-nosu studies). However, the categorization literature has shown that categories accompanied with arbitrary labels lead to faster learning. Since sound symbolically contrastive labels often exhibit high degrees of phonologically differentiation (e.g., bouba/kiki), we asked whether maximally phonologically contrastive labels without sound symbolism (i.e., arbitrary) would induce similar or different learning effects when compared to sound symbolically congruent labels, in a staged category learning task with labels. Three kinds of high phonological contrast significantly enhanced category learning over and above low phonological contrast, and a silent condition during training and test. Categories trained with maximally contrastive labels which were also sound symbolically congruent showed an advantage over other types of maximally contrastive labels during a concept test phase, but this effect was not maintained into the final label test phase. These findings suggest that sound symbolism provides a subtle boost to certain kinds of learning, over and above the mechanisms of phonological differentiation, but that differentiation and sound symbolism are often confounded in experimental designs.