Some gestures can be understood almost anywhere: for example, to point someone’s attention. New research shows that certain vocalizations are also iconic and recognizable to people all over the world-even if the speaker does not simply imitate a well-known voice.These findings, published exist Scientific report, May help explain the rise of modern spoken language.
In 2015, language researchers asked some English speakers to form sounds that represent various basic concepts (“sleep”, “child”, “meat”, “rock”, etc.). When other English speakers hear these sounds and try to match them with concepts, they are basically successful. But “we want to be able to prove that these vocalizations are understandable in different cultures,” said study co-author Marcus Perlman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Birmingham.
Therefore, Perlman and his colleagues conducted online and face-to-face experiments in seven countries from Morocco to Brazil. They recruited more than 900 participants, who spoke 28 languages in total to listen to the most understandable sounds in the 2015 survey, and to select matching concepts from a set of words or images. Sounds that evoke well-known sounds (such as dripping water) work best. But the research team found that in all the languages tested, the comprehension rates of many other languages were also much higher than chance. “In addition to onomatopoeia, there has been a considerable degree of success,” Perlman said.
The research team believes that this may be because certain acoustic modes are ubiquitous. For example, short and basic sounds usually convey the concept of “one”, while repetitive sounds are usually associated with “many”. Likewise, bass accompanies loud sounds, while treble conveys small size. Co-author Aleksandra Ćwiek, a linguist at the Leibniz Center for General Linguistics in Berlin, said the discovery of these “iconic” sounds can help scientists understand how human ancestors began to use rich acoustic communication. She said that human voices may “provide enough iconicity to bring language to life.”
Matthias Urban, a linguist at the University of Tübingen who was not involved in the study, agrees. “It is unclear how the words were originally produced,” he said. The iconic vocalization “may be a possible approach.”