David B. Tarr

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The present investigation concerns itself with the phenomenon of natural language phonetic symbolism. Proponents of phonetic symbolism, or the hypothesis of phonetic universals, as it is sometimes called, claim that human speech sounds have inherent meaning apart from their learned association with referents in the world. Since phonetic symbolism had been used to explain both success in guessing the meanings of foreign words and also a consistent tendency to attribute particular meanings to selected nonlinguistic verbalizations, it was hypothesized that phonetic symbols were part of an underlying stratum of semantic invariance. Further, it was assumed that such phonetic/semantic symbols should demonstrate their innate and a priori character by being most readily accessible through mental processes that are global, affective and pre-logical. Consequently, it was decided to employ two research strategies which had yielded promising results in an earlier study which examined a related archaic linguistic phenomenon (Adair 1975).

The first of these strategies makes use of the Jungian typological notion that persons characterized as high in intuition tend to gather data from inner mental processes for the conduct of their daily lives. Because of this tendency toward inner consultation, it was predicted that high intuiting persons should excel in decoding phonetic/semantic units that can be found as archaic, pre-logical deposits in all languages. Lesser performance was expected from persons who are nonintuitors, since such individuals are assumed to use data from immediate sensory experience rather than from inner rumination. Subjects were selected to represent both extremes of this Jungian sensation—intuition dimension on the basis of their performance on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (1962).

The other research strategy for discriminating logical from pre- logical, intuitive processing involved making use of the fact that mon- aurally presented stimuli are differentially routed to the cerebral hemispheres. The opposite-side hemisphere processes the majority of the sound input to an ear. Since the right hemisphere has come to be associated with intuitive, aesthetic and global cognition, it was thought that stimulus material (i.e., foreign words) presented to this hemisphere via the opposite ear would elicit more archaic responses, which would have relatively higher congruence with the a priori semantic structure in foreign language words. It was also hypothesized that foreign words presented monaurally to the left hemisphere would elicit responses relatively less congruent with phonetic/semantic a prioris, since this hemisphere specializes in linear, logical and analytic processing. Monaural presentation of foreign word stimuli was accomplished by blocking one earphone of a headset with acoustically dense material.

Response choices were presented to subjects in booklets which contained four options per stimulus. These options were arranged such that two orthogonal polar opposite pairs would be presented in each option set. Randomization of order effects for response choices was achieved through application of an incomplete latin square method.

Although the data failed to support the hypotheses outlined above, a trend was noted for the intuition—sensation dimension. These results are discussed with respect to sex differences in the degree of hemisphere specialization and ineffectiveness of the dependent variable measure.