Intermediate Level Learners’ Vocabulary Guessing and Recognizing through Sound Symbolism

Mohammad Zohrabi, Hossein Sabouri, Saeid Peimanfar


Research into vocabulary acquisition indicates that there are several contributors to word learning. However, the question of phonology’s place in word learning has been virtually ignored. Sound symbolism is the idea that the relationship between phonology and semantics is not always arbitrary and that for some words present in today’s languages there is correspondence between sound and meaning. The impetus behind the present study was to investigate whether sound symbolism as a possible route leads to increased word learning. The study compared the guesses that 90 intermediate level Turkish learners of EFL made regarding the potential meanings of sound symbolic and non-sound symbolic words both in the presence and absence of context. Independent sample t-tests were calculated to analyze the participants’ guesses of the word meaning. The results revealed that the participants were able to guess the meanings of sound symbolic words significantly better than the meanings of non-sound symbolic words. The analysis of independent sample t-test substantiated that both sound symbolism as a word level property and context are significantly effective for word learning. As the results revealed, when sound symbolic words were embedded in their relevant written context, the participants’ guesses were the highest. That is, the interactive efficacy of sound symbolism plus context was significantly higher than the efficacy of either of them. Hence, EFL teacher may raise the learners’ awareness to sound symbolism as a potential means in restricting and interpreting the meaning of unknown words.



Sound symbolism, word learning

Full Text:



Abelin, A. (1999). Studies in sound symbolism. Gothenburg Monographs in Linguistics 17. Gothenburg, 279 sid.

Astika, G. (1993). Analytical assessments of foreign students’ writing. RELC Journal, 24, 61–70.

Austerlitz, R. (1994). Finnish and Gilyak sound symbolism – an interplay between system and history. In L. Hinton, J. Nichols & J.J. Ohala (Eds.), Sound symbolism (pp. 249-260). Cambridge: CUP.

Berlin, B. (1994). Evidence for pervasive synesthetic sound symbolism in ethnozoological nomenclature. In L. Hinton, J. Nichols & J. Ohala (Eds.), Sound Symbolism (pp. 76–93). New York: CUP.

Carter, R. (2001). Vocabulary. In R. Carter & D. Nunan (Eds.), Teaching English to speakers of other languages (pp. 72-79). Cambridge: CUP.

Dale, E., O’Rourke, J., & Barbe, W. B. (1986). Vocabulary building: A process approach. Columbus, OH: Zaner-Bloser.

Elgort, I. & Nation, I.S.P. (2010). Vocabulary learning in a second language: Familiar answers to new questions. In P. Seedhouse, S. Walsh & C. Jenks (Eds.), Conceptualizing learning in applied linguistics. Houndmills: Macmillan.

Engber, C. (1995). The relationship of lexical proficiency to the quality of ESL compositions. Journal of Second Language Writing, 4, 213–238.

Hinton, L., Nichols, J. & Ohala, J. J. (1994). Sound symbolism. New York: CUP.

Hulstijn, J., & Laufer, B. (2001). Some empirical evidence for the involvement of load hypothesis in vocabulary acquisition. Language Learning, 51(3), 539-558.

Imai, M., Kita, S., Nagumo, M., & Okada, H. (2008). Sound-symbolism between a word and an action facilitates early verb learning. Cognition, 109, 54–65.

Kunihara, S. (1971). Effects of the expressive voice on phonetic symbolism. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 10, 427-429.

Laufer, B. (1991). Some properties of the L2 mental lexicon as evidenced by lexical confusions. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 29(2), 317-330.

Laufer, B. (1997).What’s in a word that makes it hard or easy? Some intralexical factors that affect the learning of words. In N. Schmitt & M. McCarthy (Eds), Vocabulary description: Description, acquisition and pedagogy (pp. 140-155). Cambridge: CUP.

Nation, P. (2002). Best practice in vocabulary teaching and learning. In J. C. Richards & W. A. Renandya (Eds.), Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice (pp. 267-272). Cambridge: CUP.

Nuckolls, J. B. (1999). The case for sound symbolism. Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, 225–252.

Parault, S. J. & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2006). Sound symbolism: A piece in the puzzle of word learning. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 35, 329-351.

Sereno J. A. (1994). Phonosyntactics. In L. Hinton, J. Nichols & J. Ohala (Eds.), Sound Symbolism. New York: CUP.

Ultan, R. (1978). Size-sound symbolism. In J. Greenberg (Eds.), Universals of human language (pp. 525-568). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2020 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.