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Journal Articles Scientific Reports Year : 2021

Novel vocalizations are understood across cultures

Susanne Fuchs
  • Function : Author
Christoph Draxler
  • Function : Author
Eva Liina Asu
  • Function : Author
Dan Dediu
Katri Hiovain
  • Function : Author
Shigeto Kawahara
  • Function : Author
Sofia Koutalidis
  • Function : Author
Manfred Krifka
  • Function : Author
Pärtel Lippus
  • Function : Author
Gary Lupyan
  • Function : Author
Grace E Oh
  • Function : Author
Jing Paul
  • Function : Author
Caterina Petrone
Sabine Reiter
  • Function : Author
Nathalie Schümchen
  • Function : Author
Ádám Szalontai
  • Function : Author
Özlem Ünal-Logacev
  • Function : Author
Jochen Zeller
  • Function : Author
Bodo Winter
  • Function : Author
Marcus Perlman

Abstract

Linguistic communication requires speakers to mutually agree on the meanings of words, but how does such a system first get off the ground? One solution is to rely on iconic gestures: visual signs whose form directly resembles or otherwise cues their meaning without any previously established correspondence. However, it is debated whether vocalizations could have played a similar role. We report the first extensive cross-cultural study investigating whether people from diverse linguistic backgrounds can understand novel vocalizations for a range of meanings. In two comprehension experiments, we tested whether vocalizations produced by English speakers could be understood by listeners from 28 languages from 12 language families. Listeners from each language were more accurate than chance at guessing the intended referent of the vocalizations for each of the meanings tested. Our findings challenge the often-cited idea that vocalizations have limited potential for iconic representation, demonstrating that in the absence of words people can use vocalizations to communicate a variety of meanings.

Domains

Linguistics
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Dates and versions

halshs-03228519 , version 1 (18-05-2021)

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Aleksandra Ćwiek, Susanne Fuchs, Christoph Draxler, Eva Liina Asu, Dan Dediu, et al.. Novel vocalizations are understood across cultures. Scientific Reports, 2021, 11, pp.10108. ⟨10.1038/s41598-021-89445-4⟩. ⟨halshs-03228519⟩
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