What voiced obstruents symbolically represent in Japanese: Evidence from the Pokémon universe

Shigeto Kawahara, Gakuji Kumagai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Kawahara, Noto, and Kumagai (2018b) found that within the corpus of existing Pokémon names, the number of voiced obstruents in the characters' names correlates positively with their weight, height, evolution levels and attack values. While later experimental studies to some extent confirmed the productivity of these sound symbolic relationships (e.g. Kawahara and Kumagai 2019a), they are limited, due to the fact that the visual images presented to the participants primarily differed with regard to evolution levels. The current experiments thus for the first time directly explored how each of these semantic dimensions - weight, height, evolution levels, and attack values - correlates with the number of voiced obstruents in nonce names. The results of two judgment experiments show that all of these parameters indeed correlate positively with the number of voiced obstruents in the names. Overall, the results show that a particular class of sounds - in our case, a set of voiced obstruents - can signal different semantic meanings within a single language, supporting the pluripotentiality of sound symbolism (Winter, Pérez-Sobrino, and Brown 2019). We also address another general issue that has been under-explored in the literature on sound symbolism; namely, its cumulative nature. In both of the experiments, we observe that two voiced obstruents evoke stronger images than one voiced obstruent, instantiating what is known as the counting cumulativity effect (Jäger and Rosenbach 2006).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-24
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Japanese Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 May 1


  • Japanese
  • Pokémon names
  • cumulativity
  • pluripotentiality
  • soundsymbolism
  • voiced obstruents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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