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Spatial metaphor in language can promote the development of cross-modal mappings in children

Shayan, S., Ozturk, O., Bowerman, M., & Majid, A. (2014). Spatial metaphor in language can promote the development of cross-modal mappings in children. Developmental Science, 17(4), 636-643. doi:10.1111/desc.12157.
Pitch is often described metaphorically: for example, Farsi and Turkish speakers use a ‘thickness’ metaphor (low sounds are ‘thick’ and high sounds are ‘thin’), while German and English speakers use a height metaphor (‘low’, ‘high’). This study examines how child and adult speakers of Farsi, Turkish, and German map pitch and thickness using a cross-modal association task. All groups, except for German children, performed significantly better than chance. German-speaking adults’ success suggests the pitch-to-thickness association can be learned by experience. But the fact that German children were at chance indicates that this learning takes time. Intriguingly, Farsi and Turkish children's performance suggests that learning cross-modal associations can be boosted through experience with consistent metaphorical mappings in the input language
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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