Recent findings support that facial musculature accounts for a form of phonetic sound symbolism. Yu, McBeath, and Glenberg (2019) found that, in both English words and Mandarin pinyin, words with the middle phoneme /i:/ (as in “gleam”) were rated as more positive than their paired words containing the phoneme /ʌ/ (as in “glum”). The present study tested whether a second largely orthogonal dimension of vowel phoneme production (represented by the phonemes /æ/ vs /u/), is related to a second dimension perpendicular to emotional valence, arousal. Arousal was chosen because it is the second dimension of the Russell Circumplex Model of Affect. In phonetic similarity mappings, this second dimension is typically characterized by oral aperture size and larynx position, but it also appears to follow the continuum of consonance/dissonance. Our findings supported the hypothesis that one-syllable words with the center vowel phoneme /æ/ were reliably rated as more rousing, and less calming, than matched words with the center vowel phoneme /u/. These results extend the Yu, et al. findings regarding the potential contribution of facial musculature to sounds associated with the emotional dimension of arousal, and further confirm a model of sound symbolism related to emotional expression. These findings support that phonemes are not neutral basic units but rather illustrate an innate relationship between embodied emotional expression and speech production.
- The Wham-Womb Effect: Words with the Phoneme /æ/ are Rated as More Rousing than those with /u/
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