First Advisor

Tucker Childs

Date of Publication

Spring 5-20-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics




Sound symbolism -- Age differences, Sound symbolism -- Sex differences, Iconicity (Linguistics), Branding (Marketing)



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 101 pages)


This mixed-method study investigated the correlation of sound symbolic associations with age and gender by analyzing data from a national survey of 292 American English speakers. Subjects used 10 semantic differential scales to rate six artificial brand names that targeted five phonemes. Subjects also described the potential products they imagined these artificial brand names to represent. Quantitative analysis alone provided insufficient evidence to conclude that age or gender affect sound symbolism in American English. While 26 out of 60 scales showed a monotonic shift among the means of the three age groups, only three were statistically significant. The evidence of differences between genders was similarly weak; only five scales out of 60 showed a statistically significant difference when comparing genders. Analysis of the qualitative data, however, suggested both monotonic generational shifts as well as generational blips in sound-symbolic associations. Of particular interest is the possible influence of pop culture, fashions, and fads, and society's shifting focus from broadcast to narrowcast media. The implications of this research are relevant for both theory (empirical evidence for iconicity in language) and application (e.g., devising brand names that communicate particular attributes to specific demographics).


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