September 12, 2016
Written by Maximus Peperkamp, M.S. Verbal Engineer
This is my fourth response to “Sound, Symbolism, and Swearing; an Affect Induction Perspective” (2010) by B. Yardy. In the discussion section of the paper Yardy is referring to the Bouba-Kiki Effect as he states “the ordinal rank order of the different consonants is precisely what would have been expected based on our hypothesis that harsher sounding plosive consonants will be more commonly associated with jagged imagery and smoother sounding consonants will be more commonly associated with rounded imagery.”
Once we have become familiar with the distinction between Sound Verbal Behavior (SVB) and Noxious Verbal Behavior (NVB) aspects of this sound hierarchy will become clear that relate to how we talk: people who were introduced to the SVB/NVB distinction unanimously pair SVB with rounded imagery and smoother sounding consonants and NVB with jagged imagery and harsher sounding plosive consonants.
It is wonderful that Yardy specifically points out “the phonemic and acoustic effects of affect induction” although affect induction, of course, “is not limited to the auditory domain.” This emphasis on auditory aspects of the AIM supports the SVB/NVB distinction, which, in my opinion, is more needed in this world than anything else.
Without evolutionary evidence for the primacy ofsound we get carried away by what we say and by other modalities that influence us. Owren, Rendall & Ryan (2010) point out “The Affect Induction perspective of signaling can be applied to all sense modalities as all senses can be manipulated and influenced.” With the SVB/NVB distinction we also get clear about affective signals other than vocal sound production.
The rattle of the rattle snake is a “harsh sound pattern with rapid onset (Fenton & Licht, 1990) and can therefore be considered as an example of NVB. “The authors conclude that the rattle is not meant for communication between rattlesnakes because the signals are most intense outside the sensitive hearing range of snakes; instead, the authors argue that this acoustic pattern has been selected to instill fear in potential predators by startling them” (Fenton & Licht, 1990).
Once we distinguish between SVB and NVB it becomes evident that NVB is not even meant for communication, but for intimidation and domination. Similar to rattle snakes, the sound that we make when we engage in NVB is outside of our sensitive, conscious hearing range.
Once we have acknowledged the SVB/NVB distinction, we can begin to make sense of Yardy’s finding that “swearwords/profanity contained a higher proportion of words with harsh, plosive consonants than did lullabies, which contained a higher proportion of words with smooth, sonorant consonants.” Also, the findings of other researchers fall into place when we focus on the importance of how we sound while we speak.
“Swearing is considered part of “automatic” speech and even individuals with aphasia that struggle to say other words are able to swear fluently with appropriate prosody” (Lancker & Cummings, 1999). It is my clinical experience with bipolar clients, who often swear, that this “automatic” speech is decreases as a result of my SVB interventions.
I have found SVB can also decreases symptoms of individuals diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. “Swearwords and swearing may also be distinctive neurologically in being processed in lower (limbic) level than words that are primary referential, and thus cortically processed (Lanker & Cummings, 1999). I predict that our NVB, like swearing, is a response class that “is neurologically distinctive in being processed on a lower (limbic) level.” In SVB, on the other hand, our words “are primarily referential” as they are processed on a higher cortical level.