An interesting description of recent research into sound symbolism, from Bustle:
To explore how sensitive native Dutch speakers are to sound-symbolism, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University in the Netherlands devised learning exercises using Japanese ideophones. From the thousands of mimetics in the Japanese language, researchers started with a list of 376 words. They eliminated all but 95 that had clear easily-understandable Dutch translations (for example, the ideophone “fuwafuwa” which means “fluffy”).
In the first test, 26 male and female participants (ages 22 through 35) both saw and heard a recording of the Japanese word. They then had to identify the definition that best matched the word from a choice of two given, one being the true definition and the other the opposite. The participants guessed the correct definition 63.1 percent of the time, which was above chance accuracy. […]
In a final test, 30 participants were shown the real definition for 19 ideophones, and for 19 others they were taught the opposite meaning. Participants remembered the real word pairings 86.1 percent of the time, and correctly remembered the opposite word pairing with only 71.1 percent accuracy. They were then informed that some of what they were taught had the wrong meaning, and were encouraged to pick the meanings for the words that sounded correct to them. Even though 50 percent of what they had been taught was incorrect, the participants guessed the true meanings above chance at 72.3 percent accuracy. They also responded faster when the sound-symbolic words were paired with the correct definition.
As a control, a different set of 30 Dutch participants were put through a similar test with regular Japanese adjectives and their definitions. They guessed the correct translations with better than chance accuracy at 55.3 percent (but lower than sound-symbolic words). However, their learning and accuracy of the words and meanings didn’t improve over time.
The full text of the paper, by Gwilym Lockwood, Mark Dingemanse, and Peter Hagoort is available here and at 8 pages, it’s a pretty quick read and worth checking out at least for the fun examples of Japanese and Dutch ideophones.
I definitely needed to learn that “fuwafuwa” and “pluizig” both mean “fluffy”.