Implications for phonetic symbolism: The relationship between pure tones and geometric figures

Michael W. O'Boyle, Robert D. Tarte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In studies of phonetic symbolism, the most commonly cited attribute of speech relevant to the phenomenon has been frequency. The present study was conducted in order to examine the relationship between pure tone frequencies and geometric figures. A pure tone oscillator was constructed which produced tones in a continuous sweep from 40-12,250 Hz. Six geometric shapes were employed and varied along three binary dimensions (size, complexity, and density) producing a total of 48 stimulus figures. Twelve male and twelve female subjects adjusted pure tone frequencies until they "best fit" the visually presented geometric figure in a complete within-subject, block-randomization design of 48 trials. There was consistency in the assignment of pure tone frequencies to the dimensions of the geometric figures. Round figures (circles and ellipses) generally received lower frequency assignments than other figures, and the shape by size interaction was also found to be statistically significant. The results are interpreted in light of recent research in psycholinguistics and in particular to the hypothesis of a "universal phonetic symbolism."

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-544
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1980


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