Expressing evolution in Pokémon names: Experimental explorations

Shigeto Kawahara, Gakuji Kumagai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


There has been a growing interest in sound symbolic patterns in natural languages, in which some sounds are associated with particular meanings. Previous corpus-based research identified some specific sound symbolic relationships in Pokémon naming patterns in Japanese (Kawahara et al. 2018b). One of the main findings was that the names of Pokémon characters are more likely to contain voiced obstruents, and are longer in terms of mora count, when the Pokémon characters undergo evolution (e.g. nyoromo → nyorozo; poppo → pijotto). The current study reports three experiments that test whether (i) these patterns are productive in the minds of general Japanese speakers, and whether (ii) the same tendency holds with English speakers. The results show that the effect of phonological length was clearly observed both with Japanese and English speakers; the effects of voiced obstruents were observed clearly with Japanese speakers, but less clearly with English speakers. Along the way, we address other general issues related to sound symbolism: (iii) to what extent the sound symbolic effects identified in Kawahara et al. (2018b) rely on familiarity with Pokémon, and (iv) whether word-initial segments invoke stronger images than word-internal segments. In addition to its research value, we emphasize that this general project on Pokémon names can be useful for undergraduate phonetics education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-38
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Japanese Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 May 1


  • Japanese
  • Pokémon
  • experimental phonology
  • sound symbolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Expressing evolution in Pokémon names: Experimental explorations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this