From English to Chinese language, Hungarian and Zulu, individuals who converse completely different languages make the identical hyperlinks between sounds and shapes, a brand new examine exhibits. 

A world analysis crew has carried out the most important cross-cultural take a look at of the ‘bouba-kiki impact’ – the tendency to affiliate made-up phrases ‘bouba’ with a spherical form and ‘kiki’ with a spiky form. 

The researchers surveyed 917 audio system of 25 completely different languages representing 9 language households and 10 writing techniques. 

They discovered the impact exists independently of the language that an individual speaks or the writing system that they use, whether or not it is the Roman alphabet (A, B, C), the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma) or Chinese language characters (北, 方, 话). 

Such universally-meaningful vocalisations might type a world foundation for the creation of recent phrases, resembling phrases that flow into on social media.   

Bouba and kiki shapes used in the experiment. Most people around the world agree that the made-up word 'bouba' sounds round in shape, and the made-up word 'kiki' sounds pointy

Bouba and kiki shapes used within the experiment. Most individuals world wide agree that the made-up phrase ‘bouba’ sounds spherical in form, and the made-up phrase ‘kiki’ sounds pointy


The bouba-kiki impact is the affiliation of made-up phrases ‘bouba’ with a spherical form and ‘kiki’ with a spiky form. 

This affiliation exhibits a correspondence between speech sounds and visible properties.

Researchers have discovered individuals throughout 25 completely different languages make the hyperlink, which has ‘implications for the evolution of spoken language’.  

The brand new examine was led by Dr Marcus Perlman on the College of Birmingham and printed in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 

‘Our findings recommend that most individuals world wide exhibit the bouba-kiki impact, together with individuals who converse varied languages, and whatever the writing system they use,’ stated Dr Perlman.

‘Our ancestors may have used hyperlinks between speech sounds and visible properties to create a few of the first spoken phrases.

‘At the moment, many hundreds of years later, the perceived roundness of the English phrase “balloon” might not be only a coincidence, in any case.’ 

The bouba-kiki impact, first documented by German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler in 1929, is assumed to derive from phonetic and articulatory options of the 2 phrases – resembling the rounded lips of the ‘b’ and the harassed vowel in ‘bouba’, and the intermittent stopping and beginning of air in announcing ‘kiki’.

Additionally, announcing the tough ‘ok’ sounds in ‘kiki’ could also be perceived as akin to the sharp factors of a spiky form, whereas the extra drawn out ‘ooo’ sound in the midst of ‘bouba’ may evoke the flabbier edges of the rounder form. 

The bouba-kiki effect was first documented by German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler (pictured) in 1929

The bouba-kiki impact was first documented by German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler (pictured) in 1929

Additionally, the letters in kiki are visually spikier than the extra rounded letters for bouba, within the Roman alphabet at the least. 

For the examine, the crew carried out a web-based take a look at with members who spoke 25 languages – Albanian, Armenian, Danish, English, German, Swedish, Greek, Farsi, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Japanese, Georgian, Korean, Zulu, Mandarin Chinese language, Thai, Turkish, Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian.

The outcomes confirmed that 71.1 per cent of members worldwide – 652 out of 917 – matched ‘bouba’ with the rounded form and ‘kiki’ with the spiky one. 

The impact was the strongest in Japanese, Swedish, Korean and English, however weakest in Romanian, Mandarin Chinese language, Turkish and Albanian. 


1. Japanese

2. Swedish

3. Korean

4. English 

5. German


1. Romanian

2. Turkish

3. Mandarin Chinese language

4. Albania

5. Portuguese

The researchers weren’t positive of the similarities, if any, between languages at both finish of the dimensions that might clarify this, nonetheless.  

‘Languages that present the impact merely state the frequent connection between sure sounds and shapes throughout cultures,’ examine writer Aleksandra Ćwiek on the Leibniz Heart for Basic Linguistics Berlin instructed MailOnline.

‘We don’t level to any crucial connection, simply to the final property that people may share – a crossmodal correspondence between sound and form.

‘Alternatively, there could also be languages with phrases much like “bouba” and “kiki” masking the anticipated impact by their semantic which means (like Romanian and Turkish).’   

Earlier research have already proven that almost all of individuals, largely Westerners, intuitively match a bulbous form to the phrase ‘bouba’ and a spiky form to ‘kiki’.

However this examine exhibits the impact stems from a ‘deeply rooted human capability’ to attach speech sound to visible properties, and never only a quirk of talking English. 

The survey pattern offers ‘the strongest demonstration up to now that the bouba-kiki impact ‘is strong throughout cultures and writing techniques’, the crew say. 

The bouba-kiki effect exists, independently of the language a person speaks or the writing system that they use, whether it's the Roman alphabet (A, B, C, pictured), the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma) or Chinese characters (北, 方, 话)

The bouba-kiki impact exists, independently of the language an individual speaks or the writing system that they use, whether or not it is the Roman alphabet (A, B, C, pictured), the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma) or Chinese language characters (北, 方, 话)

Iconicity – the resemblance between type and which means – had been regarded as largely confined to onomatopoeic phrases resembling ‘bang’ and ‘peep’, which imitate the sounds they denote. 

Nonetheless, the crew’s analysis means that iconicity can form the vocabularies of spoken languages far past the instance of onomatopoeias. 

‘New phrases which can be perceived to resemble the item or idea they confer with usually tend to be understood and adopted by a wider group of audio system,’ stated co-author Dr Bodo Winter, additionally at Birmingham.

‘Sound-symbolic mappings resembling in bouba-kiki might play an vital ongoing position within the improvement of spoken language vocabularies.’ 

A 2016 examine confirmed that evil characters in movies and TV exhibits are drawn just like the ‘kiki’ form, with sharper options resembling pointy noses and eyebrows.

Extra lovable characters, in the meantime, are normally drawn to look softer and rounder, like Baloo within the Disney traditional ‘The Jungle E-book’. 


Many villains in a narrative are drawn or remodeled to have pointy and sharp options, as our brains understand these shapes as threatening.

Nonetheless, lovable characters are normally tender in spherical with normally has a spherical head or stomach.

The way in which film photographs are framed are additionally used to visually inform a narrative.

A round body throughout the shot suggests surveillance and spying.

An oblong body inside a shot recommend somebody is trapped of their present state of affairs.

And a scene the place vertical and horizontal strains seem, resembling window blinds opened simply barely to offer a restricted view, suggests the character is imprisoned.