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A role for onomatopoeia in early language: evidence from phonological development


Onomatopoeia appear in high quantities in many infants’ earliest words, yet there is minimal research in this area. Instead, findings from the wider iconicity literature are generalised to include onomatopoeia, leading to the assumption that their iconic status makes them inherently learnable, thereby prompting their early production. In this review we bring together the literature on onomatopoeia specifically and iconicity more generally to consider infants’ acquisition from three perspectives: perception, production, and interaction. We consider these findings in relation to Imai and Kita’s (2014) ‘sound symbolism bootstrapping hypothesis’ to determine whether their framework can account for onomatopoeia alongside other iconic forms.

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*Centre for Language and Communication Research, Cardiff University, UK. E-mail:
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Language and Cognition
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