Stephanie Shih, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, University of Southern California, will present “Catching phonology in the Pokéverse: Cross-linguistic comparisons in sound symbolism,” on Friday, September 21, as part of the department’s Fall 2018 Colloquium Series. Her presentation will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in R2230, Ross School of Business.  

Shih’s research interests cover a wide range of topics, from phonological theory, to quantitative and computational approaches to phonology, to the syntax-phonology interface, and issues surrounding inclusivity and diversity in academia.


Catching phonology in the Pokéverse: Cross-linguistic comparisons in sound symbolism

Sound symbolism flouts the core assumption of the arbitrariness of the sign in human language. The cross-linguistic prevalence of sound symbolism raises key questions about the universality versus language-specificity of sound symbolic correspondences. One challenge to studying cross-linguistic sound symbolic patterns is the difficulty of holding constant the real-world referents across cultures. In this talk, I present a rich, cross-linguistic dataset that addresses the challenges of cross-linguistic comparison by providing a controlled reference ‘universe’: the Pokémon game franchise. Pokémon names are compared across six languages—Japanese, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Russian. The results show that while languages have a tendency to encode the same attributes with sound symbolism, they crucially also feature differences in sound symbol-ism that are rooted in language-specific grammar dependence. The Pokémon findings are significant to understanding how phonology interacts with the real world, in the cueing of socioculturally-defined categories.