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Biological Sciences


Arabic language, Grammatical gender, Nouns, Round sounds, Sharp sounds, The Bouba/kiki effect


L. Buchanan



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


People are more likely to associate the nonword bouba with a round shape, and kiki with a sharp shape, an effect known as the Bouba/Kiki effect (BK) (Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001). Relatedly, female names are associated with a round shape whereas male names are associated with a sharp shape (Sidhu & Pexman, 2015) and this effect extends to grammatically gendered nonwords in French (Sidhu, Pexman, & Saint-Aubin, 2019). These associations have not been examined in Arabic, or with real words with a grammatical gender. The present study addresses this gap by examining the influences of letter sound and grammatical gender on the effect in Arabic. The question is whether Arabic speakers link feminine nouns to the bouba shape, and masculine nouns to the kiki shape and whether this effect is mediated by the letter sound. Shape selection was evaluated in 110 participants. Each participant was presented with 18 feminine and 18 masculine words. One-third of the words had sharp sounds, one-third rounded sounds and one-third mixed. Words were presented one at a time above a bouba and a kiki shape on opposite sides of the screen. Participants selected the shape they thought best matched the word. Results showed that the sounds of letters influenced shape selection, gender had no influence, but gender and sound interacted. In addition, we found that in general participants selected the bouba shape more than the kiki shape.

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