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Spotlight Poster

Kiki or Bouba? Sound Symbolism in Vision-and-Language Models

Morris Alper · Hadar Averbuch-Elor

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #306
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[ Paper [ Poster [ OpenReview
Tue 12 Dec 8:45 a.m. PST — 10:45 a.m. PST


Although the mapping between sound and meaning in human language is assumed to be largely arbitrary, research in cognitive science has shown that there are non-trivial correlations between particular sounds and meanings across languages and demographic groups, a phenomenon known as sound symbolism. Among the many dimensions of meaning, sound symbolism is particularly salient and well-demonstrated with regards to cross-modal associations between language and the visual domain. In this work, we address the question of whether sound symbolism is reflected in vision-and-language models such as CLIP and Stable Diffusion. Using zero-shot knowledge probing to investigate the inherent knowledge of these models, we find strong evidence that they do show this pattern, paralleling the well-known kiki-bouba effect in psycholinguistics. Our work provides a novel method for demonstrating sound symbolism and understanding its nature using computational tools. Our code will be made publicly available.

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