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The principle of arbitrariness in language assumes that there is no intrinsic relationship between linguistic signs and their referents. However, a growing body of sound-symbolism research suggests the existence of some naturally-biased mappings between phonological properties of labels and perceptual properties of their referents (Maurer, Pathman, & Mondloch, 2006). We present new behavioural and neurophysiological evidence for the psychological reality of sound-symbolism. In a categorisation task that captures the processes involved in natural language interpretation, participants were faster to identify novel objects when label-object mappings were sound-symbolic than when they were not. Moreover, early negative EEG-waveforms indicated a sensitivity to sound-symbolic label-object associations (within 200ms of object presentation), highlighting the non-arbitrary relation between the objects and the labels used to name them. This sensitivity to sound-symbolic label-object associations may reflect a more general process of auditory-visual feature integration where properties of auditory stimuli facilitate a mapping to specific visual features.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





19 - 28


Acoustic Stimulation, Adult, Analysis of Variance, Attention, Auditory Perception, Brain, Electroencephalography, Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Evoked Potentials, Visual, Humans, Imagination, Language, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Photic Stimulation, Psychomotor Performance, Reaction Time, Symbolism