Embodied space-pitch associations are shaped by language

Holler, J., Drijvers, L., Rafiee, A., & Majid, A. (2022). Embodied space-pitch associations are shaped by language. Cognitive Science, 46(2): e13083. doi:10.1111/cogs.13083.
Height-pitch associations are claimed to be universal and independent of language, but this claim remains controversial. The present study sheds new light on this debate with a multimodal analysis of individual sound and melody descriptions obtained in an interactive communication paradigm with speakers of Dutch and Farsi. The findings reveal that, in contrast to Dutch speakers, Farsi speakers do not use a height-pitch metaphor consistently in speech. Both Dutch and Farsi speakers’ co-speech gestures did reveal a mapping of higher pitches to higher space and lower pitches to lower space, and this gesture space-pitch mapping tended to co-occur with corresponding spatial words (high-low). However, this mapping was much weaker in Farsi speakers than Dutch speakers. This suggests that cross-linguistic differences shape the conceptualization of pitch and further calls into question the universality of height-pitch associations.
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