Rising tones and rustling noises: Metaphors in gestural depictions of sounds.PLoS One. 2017; 12(7):e0181786.Plos
Communicating an auditory experience with words is a difficult task and, in consequence, people often rely on imitative non-verbal vocalizations and gestures. This work explored the combination of such vocalizations and gestures to communicate auditory sensations and representations elicited by non-vocal everyday sounds. Whereas our previous studies have analyzed vocal imitations, the present research focused on gestural depictions of sounds. To this end, two studies investigated the combination of gestures and non-verbal vocalizations. A first, observational study examined a set of vocal and gestural imitations of recordings of sounds representative of a typical everyday environment (ecological sounds) with manual annotations. A second, experimental study used non-ecological sounds whose parameters had been specifically designed to elicit the behaviors highlighted in the observational study, and used quantitative measures and inferential statistics. The results showed that these depicting gestures are based on systematic analogies between a referent sound, as interpreted by a receiver, and the visual aspects of the gestures: auditory-visual metaphors. The results also suggested a different role for vocalizations and gestures. Whereas the vocalizations reproduce all features of the referent sounds as faithfully as vocally possible, the gestures focus on one salient feature with metaphors based on auditory-visual correspondences. Both studies highlighted two metaphors consistently shared across participants: the spatial metaphor of pitch (mapping different pitches to different positions on the vertical dimension), and the rustling metaphor of random fluctuations (rapidly shaking of hands and fingers). We interpret these metaphors as the result of two kinds of representations elicited by sounds: auditory sensations (pitch and loudness) mapped to spatial position, and causal representations of the sound sources (e.g. rain drops, rustling leaves) pantomimed and embodied by the participants' gestures.