Thursday, September 11, 2014

Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum: The Measurement of Meaning (1957)

Charles Osgood was a student of the psychologist Theodore Karwoski, who did a number of studies of synaesthesia between the 1930s and the 1950s. His own work partly continued this line, but also partly shifted the focus more explicitly to the expression of synaesthetic thought in language.

The Dimensions of Meaning

In this book, Osgood and his two coauthors thus use factor analysis to show that the actual dimensionality of semantic space is much smaller than the nominal, since there are strong correlations between oppositions such as up/down, good/bad, etc.

A test item used on one of the experiments reported in the book (p. 81).

In 1980, Osgood would summarize the findings as follows:
Happy is UP, COLORFUL, LIGHT, and CLEAR, but _sad_ is DOWN, COLORLESS, DARK and HAZY; heavy is DOWN, THICK, DARK, and LARGE, but light (weight having been specified) is UP, THIN, LIGHT and SMALL; excitement is VERTICAL, COLORFUL, CROOKED and SHARP, but _calm_ is HORIZONTAL, COLORLESS, STRAIGHT and BLUNT; woman is COLORFUL, THIN, (except for Mexicans), LIGHT, BLUNT and ROUNDED (except for Navajos), but man is (VERTICAL (woman tending to be HORIZONTAL), COLORLESS, THICK, DARK, SHARP and ANGULAR. These trends for four cultures suggest certain "universal" tendencies. (Quoted from the 1981 reprint, p. 59)
In the 1957 book, the authors explain:
 … it was found that, as used by our subjects in making their judgments, the semantic scales fell into highly intercorrelated clusters. For example, fair-unfair, high-low, kind-cruel, valuable-worthless, Christian-antiChristian, and honest-dishonest were all found to correlate together .90 or better. Such a cluster represents the operation of a single, general factor in social judgments, obviously here an evaluative factor. Scales like strong-weak, realistic-unrealistic, and happy-sad were independent of this evaluative group and pointed to the existence of other dimensions of the semantic framework. (pp. 24--25)
Funny how the metaphor "ANTICHRISTIAN IS DOWN" has escaped from the current literature on cognitive metaphor theory.

Watch the Music

Front cover of the book.
For his undergraduate thesis, Osgood had also studied a number of anthropological reports of "primitive man," coming to similar conclusions. He reports in the book that,
for example, good gods, places, social positions, etc., were almost always up and light (white), whereas bad things were down and dark (black). A prevalent myth tells how the gods helped the original man to struggle from the dark, cold, wet, sad world below the ground up to the light, warm, dry, happy world on the surface. (p. 23)
Given Osgood's background, all of these things of course had to be connected to synaesthesia:
It seems clear from these studies that the imagery found in synesthesia is intimately tied up with language metaphor, and that both represent semantic relations. (p. 23)
Or, more elaborately:
Whereas fast, exciting music might be pictured by the synesthete as sharply etched, bright red forms, his less imaginative brethren would merely agree that words like "red-hot," "bright," and "fiery," as verbal metaphors, adequately describe the music; a slow melancholic selection might be visualized as heavy, slow-moving "blobs" of somber hue and be described verbally as "heavy," "blue," and "dark." The relation of this phenomenon to ordinary metaphor is evident: A happy man is said to feel "high," a said man "low"; the pianist travels "up" and "down" the scale from treble to bass; souls travel "up" to the good place and "down" to the bad place; hope is "white" and despair is "black." (p. 21)

Metaphorical Grounding

They also proposed a genealogical explanation for these phenomena, essentially the same as the one given today by cognitive metaphor theorists once you strip away the behaviorist language:
Take the case of parallelism between auditory pitch and visual size (synesthetes typically represent high tones as small and low tones as large): it is characteristic for the physical world that large-sized resonators produce low frequency tones and small-sized resonators, high frequency tones (think of a series of organ pipes, bells, or even hollow logs and sticks, and of the voices of men vs. boys, large dogs vs. little dogs, or lions vs. mice). This means that repeatedly the visual stimulus of large objects will be paired with the auditory stimulus of low-pitched tones, and so on consistently throughout the continuum. Any representational processes associated with one (e.g., danger significance of threatening big dog vs. play significance of little dog) will tend to be associated with the other as well (e.g., sounds produced). This will a hierarchy of equivalent signs come to be associated with a common mediation process. Any encoding responses associated with this mediator, such as "large" drawing movements and saying the word "large," will tend to transfer to any sign which elicits this mediator — thus "synesthesia" when a deep tone produces "large" drawing movements and "metaphor" when the word "deep" is associated with the word "large." (p. 24)

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