While sensory perception is currently receiving quite a lot of attention across disciplines, little empirical research has focused on how people describe auditory experiences. Research on the representation of sound in fiction narratives has shown that sounds are frequently conceptualized as events whose descriptions are instantiated in domains other than sound proper, as in strong men banging their way in and out of the cafe (Caballero & Paradis, 2020). It has also been found that when people are asked to describe sounds, the descriptions often foreground causal sources which relate to the listener’s personal experiences, as in I hear a shower running and coins being used to pay for the water (Hartman & Paradis, submitted). When asked about whether run, use and pay evoke meanings of sound experiences, as individual lexical items, language users are likely to say no (e.g., Lynott et al., 2020).

Intrigued by these findings, we set out to investigate what participants do when they are asked to describe a sound to somebody who cannot hear it. How are the sounds worded and the descriptions construed? To this end, we asked 214 adult, native speakers of English to describe 20 everyday acousmatic sounds, i.e., sounds without corresponding visual input (Kane, 2014). The acousmatic stimuli were familiar, everyday sounds that ranged from ambient to more specific sounds (such as the sounds coming from a forest or someone brushing their teeth) and included both anthrophonic elements (such as a sigh or a snore) and sounds coming from non-human sources (such as check-out machines or cars moving in traffic). The participants were not informed about what the sounds were or where they came from.

Our data include 3,875 written descriptions for the 20 sounds, a total of 51,089 words. We focused on the 8,244 verb constructions in the data. We inscribe our approach in the Cognitive Linguistics framework (e.g., Croft & Cruse, 2004; Talmy, 2000) and applied a specific model (Paradis, 2015) for the analysis of verb constructions. Two questions were at the core of the study:

1. What aspects of the experiences evoked by the sounds are foregrounded in the descriptions?
2. Are these aspects and constructional uses the same across the individual sounds in the data set?

We identified three main descriptive foci that spread across the data: actual sound descriptions (as in sound followed by moments of silence /Apple/:9), source event descriptions (as in someone eating an apple /Apple/:9), and the perceiver’s personal stance (as in hate this sound a lot /Apple/:78). The perception and representation of the sounds present both similarities and differences across the 20 sounds with regard to frequency and salience. For example, sound descriptions have low frequencies in all sound stimuli, but they might involve the perceiver’s experience, as in I can also hear a slight wheezy noise (/Coughing/:17), or focus on the sound correlates exclusively, as in it is a broad sound that is in short bursts (/Coughing/:175). Event descriptions dominate in all 20 sounds, but they are realized through different actions and entities as in someone walking either up or down the stairs (/Stairs/:12) versus someone wearing dress shoes, perhaps heels (/Stairs/:16). The perceiver’s personal stance appears in similar frequencies across the sounds, and it is realized mainly by descriptions of causal-reasoning relations between what is heard and the perceiver’s conceptualizations, as in it sounds like a supermarket checkout (/Store/:29) and I think what is happening is that (/Digging/:50), or the perceiver’s emotional reaction, as in this sound is weird and rather gross (/Tea/:120). We will report on both similarities across the data and some of the differences we found in the uses of verb constructions describing different types of everyday sounds. Our results yield new insights into how perceivers experience, conceptualize and contextualize the sounds, and we raise new questions about the multitasking of words in language and what the implications for the mental lexicon metaphor are.

Croft, W. l., & Cruse, D. A. (2004). Cognitive linguistics. Cambridge University Press.
Kane, B. (2014). Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press.
Lynott, D., Connell, L., Brysbaert, M., Brand, J., & Carney, J. (2020). The Lancaster Sensorimotor Norms: multidimensional measures of perceptual and action strength for 40,000 English words. Behav Res Methods, 52(3), 1271-1291. doi:10.3758/s13428-019-01316-z
Talmy, L. (2000). Toward a cognitive semantics. MIT Press.
Antal sidor2
StatusPublished - 2022 okt.
EvenemangThe International Conference on the Mental Lexicon 2022 - Niagara-on-the-lake, Kanada
Varaktighet: 2022 okt. 112022 okt. 14
Konferensnummer: 22


KonferensThe International Conference on the Mental Lexicon 2022

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Jämförande språkvetenskap och lingvistik


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