Color Sound Symbolism in Natural Languages

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper investigates the underlying cognitive processes of sound–color associations by connecting perceptual evidence from research on cross-modal correspondences to sound symbolic patterns in the words for colors in natural languages. Building upon earlier perceptual experiments, we hypothesized that sonorous and bright phonemes would be over-represented in the words for bright and saturated colors. This hypothesis was tested on eleven color words and related concepts (red–green, yellow–blue, black–white, gray, night–day, dark–light) from 245 language families. Textual data was transcribed into the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), and each phoneme was described acoustically using high-quality IPA recordings. These acoustic measurements were then correlated with the luminance and saturation of each color obtained from cross-linguistic color-naming data in the World Color Survey. As expected, vowels with high brightness and sonority ratings were over-represented in the words for colors with high luminance, while sonorous consonants were more common in the words for saturated colors. We discuss these results in relation to lexicalization patterns and the links between iconicity and perceptual cross-modal associations.


External organisations
  • Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of RAS
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage and Cognition
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019 Oct 18
Publication categoryResearch