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PLoS One. 2019 Aug 8;14(8):e0220449. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220449. eCollection 2019.

The sound of soft alcohol: Crossmodal associations between interjections and liquor.

Author information

Department of English Language & Linguistics, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Applied Linguistics Department, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
Korean Studies Program, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.


An increasing number of studies reveal crossmodal correspondences between speech sounds and perceptual features such as shape and size. In this study, we show that an interjection Koreans produce when downing a shot of liquor reliably triggers crossmodal associations in American English, German, Spanish, and Chinese listeners who do not speak Korean. Based on how this sound is used in advertising campaigns for the Korean liquor soju, we derive predictions for different crossmodal associations. Our experiments show that the same speech sound is reliably associated with various perceptual, affective, and social meanings. This demonstrates what we call the 'pluripotentiality' of iconicity, that is, the same speech sound is able to trigger a web of interrelated mental associations across different dimensions. We argue that the specific semantic associations evoked by iconic stimuli depend on the task, with iconic meanings having a 'latent' quality that becomes 'actual' in specific semantic contexts. We outline implications for theories of iconicity and advertising.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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