If you’re in a shop comparing identical knives, which brand would ‘feel’ more knife-like: the ‘taluma’ knife or the ‘takete’ knife?
‘Takete’ tends to sound more knife-like to most people, but why?
Here’s a test which shows how the sound of words can influence your perception of things.
When we show your results at the end, we will also show how you compared to other people who’ve taken the test.
Which shape below would you call “Kiki”? Which shape below would you call “Bouba”?
Even when this Kiki/Bouba test has been used with people who spoke different languages, 90 to 98% of them still picked the jagged shape as “Kiki”, and the curvy shape as “Bouba”. (The Kiki/Bouba Effect test was developed by German-American psychologist Wolfgang Köhler in 1929.)
Interestingly, people with autism choose “Kiki” as the jagged shape about 60% of the time.
For many people, “Kiki” sounds sharp and explosive and “Bouba” sounds rounded and soft. This is called sound symbolism and is an example of how your brain can assign qualities to shapes, sounds, colours and numbers.
The sound of certain vowels and consonants can feel explosive and they tend to evoke sharp and dynamic concepts. The taut shape of your mouth and tongue when you say consonants such as “k”, “t” or “p” may also influence how you feel about the sounds.
Soft-sounding consonants and vowels such as “oo” and “ah” often seem soft and friendly to people. When you say “Bouba” your mouth also tends to make more rounded shapes, which may influence how you feel about the sound too.
Companies and advertising agencies sometimes use sound symbolism and the perceived meaning of words to give their products a certain image.
For example, names for a smart phone were tested many years ago. They eventually agreed on calling the smart phone BlackBerry® because (researchers believed):
‘Blackberry’ also creates the impression of a highly connected network like a blackberry bush.