Bouba-Kiki Analyzer
Project Link | 03/16/23

What is the bouba/kiki effect?

The bouba/kiki effect is the idea that round shapes are associated with words like bouba that feel "rounder", and spiky shapes are associated with "spiky" words like kiki.

Linguists have tried to learn the science behind why we associate certain sounds with spikiness/roundness, as well as which sounds we associate with each. After examining 16 studies that looked at a cumulative total of over 60,000 words, both made-up and real, I've taken their findings and created this program that will determine how kiki (spiky) or bouba (round) your input is.

Note: The percentages likely won't add up to 100%. This is because a number of sounds aren't classified as either bouba or kiki.

Try it out!

My methodology

After looking at 16 different studies, I noted with phonetic sounds from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) that were said to be either round or spiky.

I then used the IPA-ify tool from Kevin Ryan to translate the user input into a series of IPA symbols. When the program came across an IPA symbol that was marked as round or spiky, it assigned a point in favor of either Bouba or Kiki. For each word, I divided the Bouba/Kiki value by the number of symbols I had marked as Bouba/Kiki in order to account for the fact that there are more Kiki sounds than Bouba sounds in the studies I looked at, while still giving all words in the input equal weight.

Finally, I calculated the percentage Bouba or Kiki a word is by taking the word's value (after dividing by the symbol list size) and dividing it by the total point value of the word.

Potential uses

I imagine this tool could be useful for further research into this effect as well as similar effects mapping how we associate sounds with emotion, light, etc.

Additionally, this tool could be especially useful in terms of marketing: if a company wants to send a email and make sure it evokes a certain emotion or wants to make consumers associate their words with their product, this tool could help them identify the best way to do so.