A perceptual advantage for onomatopoeia in early word learning: Evidence from eye-tracking

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A perceptual advantage for iconic forms in infant language learning has been widely reported in the literature, termed the “sound symbolism bootstrapping hypothesis” by Imai and Kita (2014). However, empirical research in this area is limited mainly to sound symbolic forms, which are very common in languages such as Japanese but less so in Indo-European languages such as English. In this study, we extended this body of research to onomatopoeia—words that are thought to be present across most of the world's languages and that are known to be dominant in infants' early lexicons. In a picture-mapping task, 10- and 11-month-old infants showed a processing advantage for onomatopoeia (e.g., woof woof) over their conventional counterparts (e.g., doggie). However, further analysis suggests that the input may play a key role in infants' experience and processing of these forms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-45
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date28 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author thanks Marilyn Vihman, Tamar Keren-Portnoy, and Elika Bergelson for feedback on the manuscript as well as Ben Miller and Tim Holmes for their assistance with programming and Jessica Wormald for providing the audio stimuli. This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant No. ES/J500215/1) and was originally submitted as part of the author's doctoral thesis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Inc.


  • Early language processing
  • Eye-tracking
  • Iconicity
  • Language acquisition
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Sound symbolism

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