Nasalization in Japanese Back-Channels bears Meaning

Nigel Ward and Masafumi Okamoto

International Congress of the Phonetic Sciences, 2003

Abstract

Many back-channels seem to be primarily sound-symbolic expressions, rather than fixed sequences of phonemes with arbitrarily associated meanings. The presence of a sound-symbolic meaning for one phonetic feature, nasalization, in back-channels in Japanese was investigated. Subjects were presented with tokens synthesized with and without nasalization and judged the differences in meaning for each pair. The results showed a fairly consistent meaning for nasalization, independent of the pragmatic context and of the phonetic context in which it occurred.

full paper (pdf)