21: What words sound spiky across languages? Interview with Suzy Styles

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Jun 22 2018 37 mins   1.1k
Most of the time, a word is an arbitrary label: there’s no particular reason why a cat has to be associated with the particular string of sounds in the word “cat”, and indeed other languages have different words for the same animal. But sometimes it may not be so arbitrary. Take these two shapes: a sharp, spiky 🗯 and a soft, rounded 💭 and these two names: “bouba” and “kiki”. If you had to assign one name to each shape, which would you pick? (Here’s a pause to let you think about it.) If you said that the spiky shape was kiki and the round shape was bouba, you’re like 90% of English speakers who answer this question. But does this work the same way for speakers of other languages? What about languages that don’t have a /b/ or a /k/ sound, or that have other features, like tone? In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your host Lauren Gawne talks with guest linguist Dr Suzy Styles about how language interacts with your other senses like vision and touch, and doing research across different cultures and languages. Suzy is an Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and runs the BLIP (Brain Language Intersensory Processing) lab. This month’s bonus episode on Patreon is about forensic linguistics. Gretchen and Lauren discuss the reasons why you might see a linguist in a courtroom, and whether Gretchen could write a note and convince people it was from Lauren. The least crime-filled crime podcast episode you’ll ever listen to! Listen and support the show at patreon.com/lingthusiasm We also announced two new Patreon funding goals, the first ($2,000) is to film our first video episode, taking a look at gesture. The second ($2,500) is to film at least one video interview discussing signed languages with a deaf linguist. We’re excited by the possibility of making these video episodes about linguistic topics that are a bit hard to convey in audio-only form! To see images of the bouba/kiki test and more links related to this episode, go to the shownotes page at https://lingthusiasm.com/post/175127239183/21-what-words-sound-spiky-across-languages