Does the Turkish word küçük (pronounced coo-chook) mean “big” or “small”? If you guessed the latter without knowing the language, you’re right—and there may be a cognitive explanation for your instinct.
In a study published in Cognition earlier this year, researchers tested people’s ability to guess at the meanings of words based on their sounds.
Kaitlyn Bankieris, a cognitive scientist from the University of Rochester, and Julia Simner, a psychologist and leader in the field of synesthesia, showed participants 400 adjectives from 10 languages they didn’t speak: Albanian, Dutch, Gujarati, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin, Romanian, Tamil, Turkish, and Yoruba. The words were broken up into categories by meaning: big/small, bright/dark, up/down, or loud/quiet. Participants heard the words spoken aloud and guessed their meanings.