Phonaesthetics & Familiarity

The Influence of L1 on Language Perception


  • María Fernanda Silva Azúa University of Vienna


It is assumed that certain languages are aesthetically more appealing than others, for example, it is often claimed that Italian sounds more beautiful than German. Phonaesthetics is the subfield of phonetics concerned with these aesthetic properties of speech sounds [1].

There are some studies, mainly in the fields of psychology, (socio)linguistics, and neuroesthetics, that investigate phonaesthetical perception, nonetheless, the topic has not been sufficiently researched. This thesis aims at exploring language perception and how language familiarity is related to it.

In previous phonaesthetical research [2], [3] participants with different native languages (L1s) evaluated aesthetical characteristics of Indo-European languages according to their impressions. The results revealed that aesthetic evaluations of a language are influenced by a variety of factors, including familiarity with the language and speaker's voice.

In line with this, a positive correlation between familiarity and pleasantness was found. The listeners in the studies preferred languages they recognized; however, listeners did not prefer their L1 or languages very close to their L1. Familiarity then, was related to foreign or second language-learning experience.

The purpose of this investigation is to reduce familiarity by selecting listeners whose L1 is not related to any of the languages of the experiment. This thesis attempts to replicate previous studies about phonaesthetical perception of languages but with a different sample of participants.       

Chinese speakers/listeners will listen to twenty-four recordings of Indo-European languages and will evaluate four aesthetical categories of them: eroticism, beauty, status, and orderliness.

On this basis, it is expected that familiarity will not be a nuisance variable anymore and that aesthetical evaluations of the languages will be largely based on the languages’ characteristics. Nevertheless, it is also expected that the voice of the speaker will influence the aesthetical evaluations since in previous studies [2], [3] it was found that voice likability was significantly correlated with some of the aesthetic characteristics of the languages.


[1] C. David, A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics. UK: Blackwell, 2011.

[2] V. Kogan and S.M. Reiterer, “Eros, Beauty, and Phon-Aesthetic Judgements of Language Sound. We Like It Flat and Fast, but Not Melodious. Comparing Phonetic and Acoustic Features of 16 European Languages,” Frontiers in human neuroscience, vol.15, no. 30, February 2021.

[3] S. M. Reiterer, V. Kogan, A. Seither-Preisler and G. Pesek, “Foreign language learning motivation: Phonetic chill or Latin lover effect? Does sound structure or social stereotyping drive FLL?” in Psychology of Learning and Motivation, vol. 72, Academic Press: 2020, pp. 165-205.