Space-pitch associations differ in their susceptibility to language

Dolscheid, S., Çelik, S., Erkan, H., Küntay, A., & Majid, A. (2020). Space-pitch associations differ in their susceptibility to language. Cognition, 196: 104073. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104073.
To what extent are links between musical pitch and space universal, and to what extent are they shaped by language? There is contradictory evidence in support of both universality and linguistic relativity presently, leaving the question open. To address this, speakers of Dutch who talk about pitch in terms of spatial height and speakers of Turkish who use a thickness metaphor were tested in simple nonlinguistic space-pitch association tasks. Both groups showed evidence of a thickness-pitch association, but differed significantly in their heightpitch associations, suggesting the latter may be more susceptible to language. When participants had to match pitches to spatial stimuli where height and thickness were opposed (i.e., a thick line high in space vs. a thin line low in space), Dutch and Turkish differed in their relative preferences. Whereas Turkish participants predominantly opted for a thickness-pitch interpretation—even if this meant a reversal of height-pitch mappings—Dutch participants favored a height-pitch interpretation more often. These findings provide new evidence that speakers of different languages vary in their space-pitch associations, while at the same time showing such associations are not equally susceptible to linguistic influences. Some space-pitch (i.e., heightpitch) associations are more malleable than others (i.e., thickness-pitch).
Publication type
Journal article
Publication date
2020

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