Cape Town: Table mountian and Bo-Kaap area

Bimodal musical pitch metaphors in Swedish and Turkish: when speech and gesture both converge and diverge


How are language-specific metaphors for musical pitch manifested in speech and gesture? In some languages (e.g. Swedish), pitch may be described as ‘high’ or ‘low’ in speech, whereas other languages (e.g. Turkish) have expressions like ‘thick’ or ‘thin’ (e.g. Dolscheid, Shayan, Majid & Casasanto, 2013; Shayan, Ozturk & Sicoli, 2011). In both cases, the metaphorical expressions establish a cross-domain mapping of distinct spatial attributes to sound perception. Gesture studies have demonstrated that a number of metaphorical mappings also appear to be reflected in speakers’ gestures (see e.g. Cienki & Müller, 2008). However, the ‘height’ and ‘thickness’ metaphors for pitch have presently not been examined from a bimodal perspective on language production that relates simultaneous gesture production to metaphorical expressions occurring in speech. To probe the bimodal conceptualisation of musical pitch metaphors crosslinguistically, we investigated how these metaphors are used simultaneously in speech and gesture by speakers of Swedish and Turkish. We hypothesised that a) Swedish and Turkish participants would describe pitch using ‘height’ and ‘thickness’, respectively, in speech; b) representational co-speech gestures would co-vary with the axes invoked by spoken metaphors (i.e. vertical vs. lateral). In a production task 25 native Swedish and 25 Turkish speakers were asked to listen to stimuli consisting of pairs of sung notes differing only in pitch. Participants then described each pair to a confederate performing a stimulus-matching task. Descriptions were transcribed and co-occurring gestures were coded for use of space, i.e. movement pattern (e.g. up/down, increasing/decreasing distance of articulators) and location (high/low), and handshape (flat/curved). Speech results show that Swedish participants frequently used ‘height’, but also ‘brightness’ metaphors to describe pitch, whereas Turkish participants mainly used ‘thickness’ metaphors. Gestures were both congruent and incongruent with the dimensions evoked by the spoken metaphors in both groups. The ‘height’ metaphor was frequently accompanied by congruent gestures indicating physical height. However, the ‘thickness’ metaphor was not accompanied by lateral gestures indicating thickness of pitch, but rather by (congruent) gestures varying in tightness of grip. Moreover, Swedish participants using ‘brightness’, and Turkish participants using ‘thickness’ metaphors often produced vertical gestures that were incongruent with the actual metaphors used, instead evoking the ‘height’ metaphor. Co-speech gestures thus aligned with the dimensions indicated by the spoken metaphors part of, but not all of the time. We discuss the implications of the observed patterns for the current views of metaphorical mappings across perceptual domains.

Cape Town, South Africa