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Trilled /r/ is associated with roughness, linking sound and touch across spoken languages

Authors
  • Winter, Bodo1
  • Sóskuthy, Márton2
  • Perlman, Marcus1
  • Dingemanse, Mark3
  • 1 University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK , Birmingham (United Kingdom)
  • 2 University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada , Vancouver (Canada)
  • 3 Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands , Nijmegen (Netherlands)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Scientific Reports
Publisher
Springer Nature
Publication Date
Jan 20, 2022
Volume
12
Issue
1
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-04311-7
Source
Springer Nature
Disciplines
  • article
License
Green

Abstract

Cross-modal integration between sound and texture is important to perception and action. Here we show this has repercussions for the structure of spoken languages. We present a new statistical universal linking speech with the evolutionarily ancient sense of touch. Words that express roughness—the primary perceptual dimension of texture—are highly likely to feature a trilled /r/, the most commonly occurring rhotic consonant. In four studies, we show the pattern to be extremely robust, being the first widespread pattern of iconicity documented not just across a large, diverse sample of the world’s spoken languages, but also across numerous sensory words within languages. Our deep analysis of Indo-European languages and Proto-Indo-European roots indicates remarkable historical stability of the pattern, which appears to date back at least 6000 years.

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