Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Study Finds Connection Between Sound And Meaning In Words

Date:
July 26, 2006
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
A new Cornell study describes a series of linguistic experiments showing that the sounds (phonology) of a word can indicate whether it is a noun or a verb. An article on the subject will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For more than 100 years the standard view among traditional language theorists was that, with the exception of onomatopoeia like "fizz" and "beep," the sound of a word tells us nothing about how it is used. This seemingly arbitrary relationship between words and their meaning in human language is hailed as singular to our species.

A new Cornell study takes that view to task.

"What we have shown is that the sound of a word can tell us something about how it is used," said Morten Christiansen, associate professor of psychology at Cornell. "Specifically, it tells us whether the word is used as a noun or as a verb, and this relationship affects how we process such words."

Christiansen, along with Thomas Farmer, a Cornell psychology graduate student, are co-authors of a paper about how the sounds of words contain information about their syntactic role. Their work will be published in the Aug. 8 print issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

To determine if the sound (phonology) of a word can indicate whether it is a noun or a verb, the researchers assessed the sounds of more than 3,000 nouns and verbs and analyzed their "relatedness" to one another.

"Nouns that are typical of other nouns in terms of what they sound like are processed faster, and similarly for verbs that have sounds typical of verbs," said Christiansen. "We show that such phonological typicality [sound relatedness] affects both the speed with which we access words in isolation as well as when we process them in the context of other words in a sentence."

In one experiment, the researchers asked Cornell undergraduate volunteers to read sentences with noun-verb homonyms -- word-forms that can be used both as a noun and as a verb. For example, "hunts" can be used as a plural noun ("the bear hunts were terrible") or as a verb ("the bear hunts for food"). In two other experiments, words that normally only occur either as a noun or as a verb were used. For example, "marble" and "insect" are almost always used as nouns, while "await" and "bury" are almost always used as verbs.

In all experiments, subjects read sentences on a computer screen, one word at a time, and the time spent reading each word was recorded. The researchers found that adults use the relationship between how words sound and how they are used to guide their comprehension of sentences.

"Because of the usefulness of this relationship for language acquisition, we suggest that it becomes an intricate part of the developing language system," he said, adding that these findings also suggest that "phonological typicality may be universal to all languages." Next, Christiansen plans to study how brain processing is affected by phonological typicality using neuro-imaging methods.

Padraic Monaghan, a lecturer in psychology at the University of York, United Kingdom, also contributed to the study.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Study Finds Connection Between Sound And Meaning In Words." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 July 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060726091554.htm>.
Cornell University. (2006, July 26). Study Finds Connection Between Sound And Meaning In Words. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060726091554.htm
Cornell University. "Study Finds Connection Between Sound And Meaning In Words." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060726091554.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A study by German researchers claims watching TV while you're stressed out can make you feel guilty and like a failure. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins