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Introduction Previous aesthetic research has set its main focus on visual and auditory, primarily music, stimuli with only a handful of studies exploring the aesthetic potential of linguistic stimuli. In the present study, we investigate for the first time the effects of personality traits on phonaesthetic language ratings. Methods Twenty-three under-researched, “rarer” (less learned and therefore less known as a foreign language or L2) and minority languages were evaluated by 145 participants in terms of eroticism, beauty, status, and orderliness, subjectively perceived based on language sound. Results Overall, Romance languages (Catalan, Portuguese, Romanian) were still among the top six erotic languages of the experiment together with “Romance-sounding,” but less known languages like Breton and Basque. Catalan and Portuguese were also placed among the top six most beautiful languages. The Germanic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic) were perceived as more prestigious/higher in terms of status, however to some degree conditioned by their recognition/familiarity. Thus, we partly replicated the results of our earlier studies on the Romance language preferences (the so-called Latin Lover effect) and the perceived higher status of the Germanic languages and scrutinized again the effects of familiarity/language recognition, thereby calling into question the above mentioned concepts of the Latin Lover effect and the status of Germanic languages. We also found significant effects of personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness) on phonaesthetic ratings. Different personality types appreciated different aspects of languages: e.g., whereas neurotics had strong opinions about languages' eroticism, more conscientious participants gave significantly different ratings for status. Introverts were more generous in their ratings overall in comparison to extroverts. We did not find strong connections between personality types and specific languages or linguistic features (sonority, speech rate). Overall, personality traits were largely overridden by other individual differences: familiarity with languages (socio-cultural construals, the Romanization effect—perceiving a particular language as a Romance language) and participants' native language/L1. Discussion For language education in the global context, our results mean that introducing greater linguistic diversity in school and universities might result in greater appreciation and motivation to learn lesser-known and minority languages. Even though we generally prefer Romance languages to listen to and to study, different personality types are attracted to different language families and thus make potentially successful learners of these languages.
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TYPE Original Research
PUBLISHED 02 February 2023
DOI 10.3389/flang.2023.1043619
Pilar Ferré Romeu,
University of Rovira i Virgili, Spain
Juan Haro,
University of Rovira i Virgili, Spain
José Antonio Hinojosa,
Complutense University of Madrid, Spain
Vita V. Kogan
Susanne Maria Reiterer
This article was submitted to
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Language Sciences
RECEIVED 13 September 2022
ACCEPTED 12 January 2023
PUBLISHED 02 February 2023
Winkler A, Kogan VV and Reiterer SM (2023)
Phonaesthetics and personality—Why we do
not only prefer Romance languages.
Front. Lang. Sci. 2:1043619.
doi: 10.3389/flang.2023.1043619
©2023 Winkler, Kogan and Reiterer. This is an
open-access article distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution License
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does not comply with these terms.
Phonaesthetics and
personality—Why we do not only
prefer Romance languages
Anna Winkler1, Vita V. Kogan2*and Susanne Maria Reiterer1*
1Department of Linguistics, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 2UCL School of Slavonic and East European
Studies (SSEES), University College London, London, United Kingdom
Introduction: Previous aesthetic research has set its main focus on visual and auditory,
primarily music, stimuli with only a handful of studies exploring the aesthetic potential
of linguistic stimuli. In the present study, we investigate for the first time the eects of
personality traits on phonaesthetic language ratings.
Methods: Twenty-three under-researched, “rarer” (less learned and therefore less
known as a foreign language or L2) and minority languages were evaluated by
145 participants in terms of eroticism, beauty, status, and orderliness, subjectively
perceived based on language sound.
Results: Overall, Romance languages (Catalan, Portuguese, Romanian) were still
among the top six erotic languages of the experiment together with “Romance-
sounding,” but less known languages like Breton and Basque. Catalan and Portuguese
were also placed among the top six most beautiful languages. The Germanic
languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic) were perceived as more
prestigious/higher in terms of status, however to some degree conditioned by their
recognition/familiarity. Thus, we partly replicated the results of our earlier studies
on the Romance language preferences (the so-called Latin Lover eect) and the
perceived higher status of the Germanic languages and scrutinized again the eects of
familiarity/language recognition, thereby calling into question the above mentioned
concepts of the Latin Lover eect and the status of Germanic languages. We
also found significant eects of personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, and
conscientiousness) on phonaesthetic ratings. Dierent personality types appreciated
dierent aspects of languages: e.g., whereas neurotics had strong opinions about
languages’ eroticism, more conscientious participants gave significantly dierent
ratings for status. Introverts were more generous in their ratings overall in comparison
to extroverts. We did not find strong connections between personality types and
specific languages or linguistic features (sonority, speech rate). Overall, personality
traits were largely overridden by other individual dierences: familiarity with languages
(socio-cultural construals, the Romanization eect—perceiving a particular language
as a Romance language) and participants’ native language/L1.
Discussion: For language education in the global context, our results mean that
introducing greater linguistic diversity in school and universities might result in greater
appreciation and motivation to learn lesser-known and minority languages. Even
though we generally prefer Romance languages to listen to and to study, dierent
personality types are attracted to dierent language families and thus make potentially
successful learners of these languages.
phonaesthetics, personality, individual dierences, speech perception, language attitudes
and ideologies, crosslinguistic comparison, sonority, speech rate
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1. Introduction
1.1. Aesthetic judgments and personality
What is it that makes us find certain objects and sounds
aesthetically appealing? Previous research has presented various
approaches showing that aesthetic experience can be affected by
diverse factors, such as structure, transparency, homogeneity, insight
and simplicity (Von Kutschera, 1988;Reber et al., 2004;Sarasso et al.,
2020), perception and diversity (Brandstätter, 2008;Brinck, 2018),
or evolutionary (Zaidel et al., 2013), and social aspects, i.e., customs
(Reber et al., 2004;Pandelaere et al., 2009;Chattaraman et al., 2010),
or additional background information (e.g., Cleeremans et al., 2016;
Kim et al., 2019;Belfi et al., 2021). But maybe beauty is in the eye
of the beholder: several studies have demonstrated that our sense
of beauty might be also guided by personal characteristics, namely
differences in personality (Child, 1965;Afhami and Mohammadi-
Zarghan, 2018).
The most prominent theoretical model of personality is the
Five-Factor model (the ‘Big Five’) by Costa and McCrae (1985)
that features five personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism,
conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience. Nettle
(2007) presents an overview of these personality traits and their most
prominent characteristics (Table 1).
Based on Costa and McCrae (1985) and Nettle (2007), the
different personality traits and also personality types can be specified
in the following way:
Extraversion: The factor of extraversion defines whether an
individual is particularly outgoing and enjoys social contact or
not. Individuals with high levels of extraversion—in contrast to
individuals with low levels of extraversion who are therefore rather
introverted—are thought to be very talkative, active, like to be the
center of attention and are also more likely to thoroughly appreciate
eroticism and romance. In addition to that, individuals with higher
levels of extraversion also tend to feel positive emotions more easily
but also more persistently and more intensely (Nettle, 2007, p. 82–84).
Neuroticism: The level of neuroticism affects how individuals
experience different emotions. Individuals with high levels of
neuroticism are prone to experience negative emotions, such as
anxiety, worry, shame, guilt, disgust, or grief, far more strongly. This
yields a difference in the attribution process of failure. Higher levels of
neuroticism therefore cause individuals to find the reason for failure
in themselves and to think that they are out of luck. As a result, high
levels of neuroticism can also cause a predisposition for depression
and a lack of self-confidence (Nettle, 2007, p. 104–121).
Conscientiousness: The level of conscientiousness is mostly
concerned with the concept of impulse control and represents goal-
orientedness and perseverance. Individuals with higher levels of
conscientiousness are highly disciplined, seem to have less problems
focusing on their individual goals and are less likely to be distracted.
A high level of conscientiousness also helps to prevent making
unfavorable decisions (Nettle, 2007, p. 141–142).
Agreeableness: The individual level of a person’s agreeableness
mostly affects social behavior and interactions and therefore
determines one’s interpersonal relationships. Individuals with high
levels of agreeableness are thought to be highly cooperative,
empathetic, trustful, affectionate, compliant, and helping. They also
hardly feel anger and are altruistically oriented, humble, and gentle
(Nettle, 2007, p. 162–170).
TABLE 1 Big Five personality traits, reproduced from Nettle (2007, p. 29).
Dimension High scorers are… Low scorers are…
Extraversion Outgoing, enthusiastic Aloof, quiet
Neuroticism Prone to stress and worry Emotionally stable
Conscientiousness Organized, self-directed Spontaneous, careless
Agreeableness Trusting, empathetic Uncooperative, hostile
Openness Creative, imaginative, eccentric Practical, conventional
Openness to experience: An individual’s level of openness to
experience is considered to not only account for the willingness to
expose one’s own to the unknown, but also to determine for example
cultural and artistic interest as well as (at least to some extent) intellect
(Nettle, 2007, p 183–185). So, individuals with high levels of openness
to experience are thought to be rather interested in culture and arts
but also more likely to be well-educated.
Afhami and Mohammadi-Zarghan (2018) conducted a study
investigating the effect of these personality traits on aesthetic
judgements and art interest. The authors tested 253 university
students from Tehran, Iran, with a mean age of 24.4 years (SD
=5.5). Participants took the Big-Five personality test and also
were measured on their aesthetic expertise and familiarity with
art-related topics. The background information such as sex, age,
education, weekly art activities, and emotional stability were also
taken into account. Afhami and Mohammadi-Zarghan showed that
openness to experience predicted aesthetic expertise with more open
participants enjoying visual arts more (Afhami and Mohammadi-
Zarghan, 2018).
Similar research questions were asked in the study conducted
by Greenberg et al. (2022), but this time concerning the experience
of music. They conducted two studies investigating the effects
of personality on the preference for certain styles of music with
284,935 participants in study 1 (57% females, 43% males) and
71,714 participants in study 2 (51% males, 48% females, 1%
transgender or other). In these two studies, music styles were
categorized into the following groups: “Mellow music (featuring
romantic, slow, and quiet attributes as heard in soft rock, RandB
and adult contemporary genres), Unpretentious (uncomplicated,
relaxing, and unaggressive attributes as heard in country genres),
Sophisticated (inspiring, complex, and dynamic features as heard
in classical, operatic, avant-garde, and traditional jazz genres),
Intense (distorted, loud, and aggressive attributes as heard in
classic rock, punk, heavy metal, and power pop genres), and
Contemporary (rhythmic, upbeat, and electronic attributes as heard
in the rap, electronica, Latin, and Euro-pop genres)” (Greenberg
et al., 2022, p. 287). Participants were asked to complete both
a music preference test, namely the STOMP-R (Rentfrow and
Gosling, 2003), and a personality test displaying a short overview
of the individual levels of the Big Five personality traits, namely
the TIPI (Gosling et al., 2003). Dwelling on the data the
authors gathered they report a number of correlations summarized
in Table 2.
The most important discovery was not so much that personality
traits were correlated with musical preferences in consistent and
robust patterns but that it was a universal trend stretching out
across 53 countries.
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TABLE 2 Significant correlations between music styles and personality
(Greenberg et al., 2022).
Music Personality
Positive correlations
Mellow music (e.g., soft rock) Agreeableness
Sophisticated music (e.g., jazz) Openness
Contemporary music (e.g., pop) Extraversion
Intense music (e.g., punk) Neuroticism
Negative correlations
Mellow music (e.g., soft rock) Neuroticism
Intense music (e.g., punk) Conscientiousness
1.2. Aesthetic evaluations of language sound
or phonaesthetics
While the vast majority of studies focused on the aesthetic
impressions of art (Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1999;Joy and
Sherry, 2003;Bahrami-Ehsan et al., 2015;Myszkowski and Zenasni,
2016) or music (Vuust and Kringelbach, 2010;Reuter and Oehler,
2011;Brattico et al., 2013;Starcke et al., 2019), the studies that
investigate the aesthetic judgements of linguistic stimuli are rare.
Meanwhile, languages are routinely subjected to aesthetic judgments
by the general public. There is almost universal agreement that
Italian, Spanish, and French are appealing and melodious languages
to the human ear (Burchette, 2014;Gasperetti, 2014). Yet, it is still
a matter of debate if such preference is due to the sociocultural aura
(associated culture and speakers of these languages) or it has to do
with the languages’ inherent properties.
The idea that some languages are evaluated more positively than
others because of their linguistic (usually phonological) features
such as pitch, isochrony or syllabic structure was introduced in
the 70s as the inherent value hypothesis (Giles et al., 1974,1979).
The imposed norm hypothesis states that language attitudes have
much to do with the speakers and the listeners of the judged
languages rather than the language sound shape (Giles et al., 1974).
Whereas, there is a substantial body of research investigating the
imposed norm hypothesis [e.g., the work of Devyani Sharma, most
recently Sharma et al. (2022)], the number of studies evaluating
the theoretical validity of the imposed norm hypothesis is rather
limited. Rabanus (2003) compared German and Italian alongside
several phonological features (percentage of open and CV syllables,
consonantal clusters, and vocalic share) with the pre-mediated
assumption that German sounds less pleasant than Italian. His
analysis demonstrated that German has a higher degree of syllabic
variance with complex combinations, including consonant clusters,
which makes this language sound rough or harsh. On the contrary,
Schüppert et al. (2015) found only a weak connection between
language attitudes and the properties of the evaluated languages.
They investigated the attitudes of Danish and Swedish children
and adolescents toward each other’s languages. They concluded that
the development of language attitudes relates to establishing one’s
identity and defining oneself and others, and is therefore closely
associated with the group of listeners who judge the language,
rather than with the languages per se.Chand (2009) supports this
perspective: she explains language attitudes with pre-existing cultural
stereotypes that we associate with the speakers of these languages
or linguistic varieties. She argues that the global linguistic capital
and social authority of a language’s speakers are the most important
factors in determining whether it is considered beautiful or not.
It is, however, entirely likely that phonaesthetics behave similarly
to music, which is generally believed to be determined by both
cultural and language inherent factors (Madden, 2014). Reiterer
et al. (2020) measured phonaesthetics judgments of 16 European
languages (including the celebrated Romance languages such as
French, Italian, and Spanish) and found that although familiarity
with languages (sociocultural factor) contributed to participants’
judgments, endogenous linguistic properties such as language average
sonority index and syllable structure also influenced participants’
phonaesthetic decisions. In the follow up study, Kogan and Reiterer
(2021) further reported that differences in judgements of the same
16 European languages were affected by music-like phonetic features
such as pitch and rhythm with fast and flat (composed pitch)
Romance languages leading the list (the Latin lover effect). On
the other hand, the characteristics of the listener also mattered,
namely the distance between the native language of the listener
and the languages of the experiment, the number of foreign
languages spoken, and musicality and singing ability. One factor
these studies did not account for was differences in listeners’
personality. Considering the growing body of research on the effects
of personality on aesthetic judgment it seems important to include
this variable to the equation. Investigating the contribution of
personality sends us back to the imposed norm hypothesis (language
attitudes are influenced by non-linguistic properties). The ideal
scenario would be to capture the full picture: linguistic and non-
linguistics factors.
Understanding the stereotypes that underlie the formation of
language attitudes is an important endeavor. The situation in which
a person is judged based on how pleasant their language sounds
might have unfavorable social consequences (e.g., the inaccessibility
of adequate medical care, housing, or employment). While not all
stereotypes are harmful—after all, they are simply generalizations
that can be statistically accurate and even helpful at times—some
stereotypes are misconceptions that should be subjected to careful
scrutiny, especially when they result in “linguistic self-hatred” (i.e.,
being ashamed of one’s language; Giles and Niedzielski, 1998).
Another practical application of the phonaesthetics research is in the
foreign language classroom. Regardless of the nature of perceptual
experiences that people have when listening to the sounds of foreign
languages, such experiences have the potential to accompany and
reinforce the process of second language acquisition. The moment
one starts learning a new language, they get exposed to new
phonaesthetic experiences. Enjoying the melody of a new language
might activate additional affective learning pathways in the learner’s
brain and support auditory memory. Neuropsychological studies
show that emotional events are remembered better than neutral
events, thanks to the amygdala, which enhances the function of the
medial temporal lobe memory system (Dolcos et al., 2004). Teachers
can use the acoustic properties of the language-to-be-learned and
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complement the classroom work with synesthetic activities that
emphasize specific phonological features (Wrembel, 2010).
1.3. Present study
The present study employs a new set of 23 European languages
which are less prominent in linguistic research outside the
countries where these languages are spoken, namely Albanian,
Basque, Breton, Catalan, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Greek,
Hungarian, Icelandic, Irish, Latvian, Maltese, Norwegian, Polish,
Portuguese, Romanian, Slovene, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, and
Welsh (Table 3). This decision was motivated by an attempt to control
and reduce the familiarity effect that strongly influenced participants’
decisions in our previous studies (Reiterer et al., 2020;Kogan and
Reiterer, 2021) and to capture the contribution of other variables to
phonaesthetic judgments. Another important reason why we decided
to use lesser-researched languages was to promote linguistic diversity
and draw attention to the European languages outside the celebrated
English-French-Spanish triad. Some of the languages in this study are
minority languages and spoken by small communities of speakers,
with a few languages facing the threat of extinction (e.g., Breton). In
the case of Breton, the present political mood has been energetically
undermining Breton, causing this language to practically vanish. As
can be seen in Table 3, there are few speakers of Breton resisting
the trend, with some of them tirelessly fighting for their mother
tongue to survive and to be passed on. In order to raise awareness
and support such lesser-researched languages, this experiment was
designed featuring languages which might be unknown at least
to some extent to many European participants. In presenting the
sound of these languages in our experiment (still available under, we hope to encourage the general public
to consider these languages as part of their linguistic education
and perhaps even start to learn them to raise the speaker numbers.
We believe that every language can be perceived as aesthetic in its
own way.
Some languages of the experiment (e.g., Greek, Portuguese,
Turkish), although undoubtedly not minority languages in any
sense, are seldomly acquired as foreign languages around the world
and could be considered “minority” L2s. Our original expectations
were that these languages would have a lower recognition rate in
comparison to well-established in a school curriculum Spanish or
French. However, this was not the case—the finding we will discuss
later in this paper.
With this new linguistically diverse stimulus set, the aim
of the current study is to explore if variance in phonaesthetic
impressions, i.e., the experience of perceiving languages as pleasant
sounding or not, is, among other factors, determined by personality
traits. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first empirical
study investigating the effect of personality on the aesthetic
judgements of linguistic stimuli. Based on previous personality
research (Nettle, 2007;Bowling et al., 2011;Carleton, 2016;Proverbio
et al., 2018), we expect extraverts to appreciate languages more
in terms of their eroticism and beauty as opposed to other
aesthetic dimensions (orderliness/well-structuredness and social
status). Higher levels of neuroticism most likely trigger lower
ratings overall across all phonaesthetic dimensions as neurotic
individuals are susceptible to negative emotions, skepticism, and
TABLE 3 Twenty four languages of the experiment.
Language Language group Number of speakers
Catalan Romance 8,028,000
Portuguese Romance 224,200,000
Romanian Romance 17,362,300
Polish Slavic 38,912,000
Slovene Slavic 2,023,000
Czech Slavic 8,664,000
Ukrainian Slavic 32,325,000
Danish Germanic 5,468,000
Icelandic Germanic 346,000
Norwegian Germanic 5,234,000
Swedish Germanic 9,568,000
Estonian Finno-Ugric 909,300
Finnish Finno-Ugric 5,402,000
Hungarian Finno-Ugric 10,474,000
Latvian Baltic 1,077,300
Breton Celtic 206,000
Irish Celtic 79,000
Welsh Celtic 602,000
Albanian Isolate 5,294,000
Basque Isolate 942,000
Greek Hellenic 12,189,000
Turkish Turkic 76,700,000
Maltese Semitic 453,000
depression. Higher conscientiousness, characterized by order and
discipline, would be associated with higher ratings for orderliness
(how consistent or well-structured a particular language is) and
status. Higher levels of agreeableness would yield in ratings consistent
with common stereotypes, such as the erotic Romance languages
(Catalan, Portuguese, and Romanian in our experiment), since more
agreeable individuals often follow trends and like to be in sync with
the prevailing opinion. Lastly, high levels of openness would lead to
higher ratings for languages more distant from the native language
due to openness to new experiences and curiosity.
2. Materials and methods
2.1. Participants
We had 145 participants: 106 females, 37 males, and 2
participants identifying as other gender. Figure 1 shows the
distribution of participants’ age. Our oldest participant was born
in 1948, while our youngest participant was born in 2009, leading
to a range of 61 years. 74% of participants were between the ages
of 21 and 40.
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Age of participants.
Furthermore, our participants showed a diverse sample in terms
of foreign languages spoken, with most participants being self-
proclaimed multilinguals and speaking up to 10 languages with a
mean of 4.89 (SD =1.96, min =1, max =10). Figure 2 illustrates
the number of spoken languages in a pie chart. Predictably, English
was the most common foreign language to speak, followed by
German, Spanish, and French. In addition to that, we had a sample
of participants having various native languages, as can be seen in
Figure 3.
With 27 participants it was the case that their native language
was among the stimulus languages, which caused us to exclude their
ratings from the analysis. To illustrate the low rate of these L1 cases,
this is equivalent to 0.8% of all experimental cases (27 out of 3,480).
In 91 cases (2.6% of all cases) a language that served as a stimulus
in this experiment had been learned as a foreign language by a
participant (Figure 4). These ratings were also removed to prevent
the familiarity bias.
2.2. Stimuli
The language recordings which were displayed as stimuli in the
experiment consisted of 46 recordings, two for each language to
control for the effect of voices. Every participant listened to one voice
for each language, so 23 recordings per participant. Forty four of these
46 recordings were recorded at the University of Viennas MediaLab
belonging to the Faculty of Philological and Cultural Studies. We
recorded native speakers of each language, except for Breton. Native
speakers of this language were hard to find in Vienna, so we had
to rely on recordings sent to us by native speakers from Brittany
(recorded at Radio Kreiz Breizh, Reiterer et al.
(2020) reported that in their experiment female voices were preferred
by both male and female participants. For that reason, we only
recorded female voices for the present study.
Each of the recordings was normalized with respect to volume.
We used Aesop’s fable The Northwind and the Sun, translated to the
Proportion of participants speaking one or more foreign languages.
experiment languages by specialists. The voice-overs were instructed
to speak slowly and in a friendly way, but also as naturally as possible
using a variety of language which is close to standard. The most
crucial issue we had to face in the process of collecting standard
variety texts was the case of Breton. Many different dialects exist in
Brittany with no such thing as a standard variety holding true for the
entire region, and the existing smaller regional dialects differ strongly
from each other. As a consequence, we had to decide on one of these
dialects. The text was translated specifically for us and our experiment
by Mark Kerrain, who also translated the Harry Potter series into the
Breton language.
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Participants’ native languages.
As stated above, in order to reduce the influence on the ratings
caused by knowledge of the languages, some of the languages were
less-known or minority languages. The selection of languages is
shown in Table 3.
2.3. Procedure
The experimental design consisted of two subparts, namely
the language rating experiment designed based on the pilot study
conducted by Reiterer et al. (2020), and secondly, the Big Five
personality test which is freely available online, under https:// This personality test
is based on the Five-Factor model (the “Big Five”) by Costa and
McCrae (1985) and displays the individual levels of the respective
personality traits in percentages. Therefore, participants needed
to fill in the online questionnaire consisting of 60 test items.
These items, such as e.g., I have a kind word for everyone,
needed to be labeled from inaccurate to accurate on a five point
likert scale.
The language rating experiment was programmed as a
website (, and made accessible online
internationally. The only requirements to take part in the experiment
were a computer/laptop and an email address, which served as
means to receive an access code. After filling in the access code,
the participants were asked to share their socio-demographic
information, such as their year of birth, place of birth, biological
gender and information concerning which countries they have stayed
at for longer than 3 months (mobility). Additionally, participants
had to give information with respect to their language background,
providing up to ten languages they spoke with corresponding
estimated proficiency levels from A1 to C2 as well as in numbers on
a scale starting with 0 (knowing only a few words) up to 100 (fluent
speech). They also had to provide information about their musicality
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Percentage of participants who spoke a particular language of the experiment as a foreign language (mean =2.7% over all languages).
and singing proficiency using numbers starting at 1 (low proficiency)
to 10 (very high proficiency).
After finishing this questionnaire, the actual experiment started
with a sound test, ensuring the functionality of the headphones
(participants were advised to use headphones). As soon as a
participant confirmed the correct functioning of the technical
equipment, the languages were presented in random order. After
listening to each language as often as desired, participants were asked
to rate it concerning Eros (How sexy does this language sound to you?
How erotic do you think it is?), Beauty/Sweetness (How beautiful/sweet
does this language sound to you?), Status (What is your impression
of the social status of this language? How high or low is its social
status in your opinion? How respected or honored is it for you?), and
Orderliness/Structure (How well-structured/orderly does this language
sound to you?), using a scale from 0 to 100. In addition to that,
participants were asked to state if the languages had sounded familiar
to them and how much they had liked or disliked the voices (Do
you like the voice?), again using a scale from 0 to 100. The last two
questions concerned the identity of each language: which language
the participants thought they had listened to, and which language
might be a close relative to the current stimulus. All of these ratings
and answers had to be given for each of the 23 languages displayed to
each participant. After the last language was rated and the guessing
task completed, the embedded link opened the website for the Big
Five Personality test. As soon as the test was done, the participants
were shown their results and asked to fill in the numbers in the spaces
provided on the main experiment website.
3. Results
3.1. Which languages sounded good?
3.1.1. Eros
The languages which received the highest mean rating in terms
of Eros were Greek (mean =53.87, SD =19.93), Basque (mean =
5.71, SD =20.28), Swedish (mean =51.45, SD =20.06), and Catalan
(mean =51.32, SD =20.57). The lowest rated languages for Eros
were Welsh (mean =35.40, SD =21.22), Danish (mean =39.17, SD
=22.01), and Norwegian (mean =41.65, SD =22.05). For further
details of the Eros ratings see Figure 5.
3.1.2. Beauty
Similar to the Eros ratings, the three highest rated languages
for Beauty were Greek (mean =62.46, SD =19.85), Basque
(mean =59.26, SD =21.37), and Swedish (mean =59.02, SD
=20.19). The lowest ratings were given to Danish (mean =
50.04, SD =24.18), Welsh (mean =50.56, SD =24.27), and
Turkish (mean =50.63, SD =21.68). Figure 6 illustrates the
Beauty ratings.
3.1.3. Status
Concerning Status, the Germanic languages—Swedish
(mean =59.02, SD =18.59), Norwegian (mean =57.96,
SD =18.09), and Danish (mean =56.45, SD =18.58)
were rated the highest. The lowest Status ratings were for
Turkish (mean =47.57, SD =18.89), Albanian (mean =
47.72, SD =18.07), and Maltese (mean =48.32, SD =
18.13). Figure 7 depicts further details of the distribution of
Status ratings.
3.1.4. Orderliness
In terms of Orderliness, the languages which received the
highest ratings were Slovene (mean =63.35, SD =17.48),
Hungarian (mean =62.00, SD =19.08), and Norwegian
(mean =61.92, SD =18.54). The languages which were
rated the lowest were Turkish (mean =54.25, SD =19.61),
Albanian (mean =54.65, SD =17.90), and Maltese (mean
=55.67, SD =17.37). Figure 8 shows the ratings of the
Orderliness factor.
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Mean Eros ratings with SD whiskers.
Mean beauty ratings with SD whiskers.
3.1.5. Voice
In addition to Eros, Beauty, Status and Order ratings, we
asked participants to rate the speaker voices. As we used
two different stimulus sets of 23 recordings each, we had 46
different speakers, two for every language. Thus, voice was
operationalized in two ways: by direct subjective opinion ratings
(“voice rating”) and by an objective experimental manipulation
unconscious to the participants (two different “stimulus voice
sets”). The languages whose speakers received the highest mean
voice ratings (subjective ratings) calculated of both stimulus sets
were Greek (mean =71.55, SD =21.45), Swedish (mean =
70.75, SD =20.79), and Latvian (mean =69.97, SD =19.90).
The lowest rated voices were for Welsh (mean =52.07, SD
=27.02), Turkish (mean =63.24, SD =24.43), and Catalan
(mean =63.72, SD =22.79).
Voice (both “voice ratings” and “stimulus voice set”) was included
in all hierarchical regression models with Eros, Beauty, Status and
Order ratings as dependent variables and served as a potential
covariate. Subjective voice ratings contributed about 30% of the
variance in phonaesthetic judgments at a significant level of p<
0.001∗∗∗ in all models. At the same time, the objective experimental
voice manipulation “stimulus set” (each language had two voices
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Mean status ratings with SD whiskers.
Mean orderliness ratings with SD whiskers.
and each participant listened to only one of the voices: either
Stimulus set 1 or Stimulus set 2, randomly assigned) was not
statistically significant in any of the regression models. Figure 9
shows the results of the speaker voice ratings of all languages. A
word of caution must be added to the subjective voice ratings. Since
those were collected always immediately after the language aesthetic
ratings in the same experimental manner (same scoring procedure),
they also resulted in much higher similarity and thus also higher
correlation/influence on the aesthetic ratings than the more objective
voice set manipulations do and therefore might represent a more
biased response.
3.1.6. Recognition ratings
The recognition rating was conceptualized as a 4-point scale (0-
1-2-3): participants received three points for correct identification
of a language upon asking, What was the language you just
heard? Two points were granted for naming a close language
relative (e.g., Belorussian for Ukrainian—both languages belong
to the East Slavic branch of the Slavic language family). One
point was granted for naming the correct language family or
another member thereof (e.g., Polish for Ukrainian—both languages
belong to the Slavic language family but different branches).
Lastly, zero points were given for naming a language that
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Mean speaker voice ratings with SD whiskers.
Mean recognition ratings.
had nothing to do with the language of the recording (e.g.,
Spanish for Ukrainian) or responding with “no idea” or “I
don’t know.”
Of all language samples, participants recognized the
correct language in 18.92% of attempts (SD =0.11%). The
top three recognized and correctly identified languages
were: Portuguese (44%), Greek (43%), and Hungarian
(30%) (Figure 10). The least recognized languages, on
the other hand, were Albanian (6%), Latvian (6%), and
Slovene (5%).
3.1.7. Speech rate and sonority
Speech rate was operationalized as the number of syllables per
second based on the audio recordings of The Northwind and the Sun
in its corresponding translations which were used as stimuli. Two
voices per language created two sets of measurements for speech
rate. The sets correlated significantly with each other (r=0.81,
p<0.001∗∗∗) and with the previously reported data from Kogan
and Reiterer (2021)—r=0.69, p=0.03. We used the mean value
between two voices per language to signify each language’s speech rate
(Figure 11 for speech rates). Overall, participants gave higher ratings
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Speech rate for each language.
for faster languages (r=0.36, p=0.08.). Yet, speech rate was not
significant in any of the hierarchical regression models with Eros,
Beauty, Status and Order ratings as dependent variables.
An average sonority index was calculated for every language
based on the two recordings available. We used Nemestothy (2022)’s
universal sonority scale that adapts the sonority values from Fought
et al. (2004) and extends them to the phonemes of the languages of
the present experiment. Our previous findings on the relationship
between phonaesthetic judgments and sonority showed that highly
sonorous languages receive higher ratings for Eros and Beauty
(Reiterer et al., 2020). We did not find the same pattern in the present
study. Although overall people found more sonorous languages more
erotic (r=0.04, p=0.84) and beautiful (r=0.14, p=0.52)—neither
of these correlations has reached significance. The regression analysis
with Eros and Beauty ratings as dependent variables confirmed this
pattern; the contribution for sonority for Eros: B =0.2, p=0.56 and
for Beauty: B =0.37, p=0.18.
3.2. The contribution of non-personality
factors to phonaesthetic ratings
In order to determine which personality factors contributed
significantly to phonaesthetic ratings, we first explored the
contribution of non-personality variables. We fitted four hierarchical
regression models with Eros, Beauty, Status and Order ratings
as dependent variables. Each model had two random effects
(participants and the languages of the experiment, different
intercepts only) and the following fixed effects: participant gender,
self-reported musicality (How musical do you consider yourself?—
on a 0–10 scale with 10 being very musical), the number of musical
instruments played, self-reported singing skills (How well do you
think you sing?on a 0–10 scale with 10 being singing very well),
language recognition rate, the number of foreign languages spoken,
rating for voice (beautiful or not), the voice stimulus set, mobility
(the number of countries visited or lived at for more than 3 months),
and the distance between participants’ native language (L1) and the
languages of the experiment.
3.2.1. L1 distance
The L1 distance was operationally based on the Serva-Petroni
distance (Serva and Petroni, 2008;Petroni and Serva, 2010;Kogan
and Reiterer, 2021) and varies from 0 to 1 (zero represents
theoretically maximal closeness/sameness, 1 is maximal distance).
The Serva-Petroni distance is a modification of the Levenstein
distance which is the minimum number of insertions, deletions, or
substitutions of a single character needed to transform one word into
the other. This measure is more appropriate for the present study in
comparison to syntactic typology which takes into consideration the
structural properties of language and primarily rely on grammatical
rules to compare languages. Since our participants are only exposed
to the auditory aspect of the languages, they could only judge
the distance between languages based on the sound shape. Some
languages sound similar even if they are typologically distant—e.g.,
Russian and Portuguese (Zaepernicková et al., 2017), and some
typologically close languages sound rather distinct (e.g., Spanish
and French). The ideal distance to estimate how close or far two
languages are in terms of sound would be the phonological distance.
Attempts have been made to calculate such a distance (Eden, 2018)
but a systematic approach is still under development, and the Serva-
Petroni distance continues to constitute the closest we can get to the
phonological distance.
When the four random-intercept hierarchical regression models
were fitted using maximum likelihood, voice (subjective voice
ratings) and the recognition rate contributed significantly to Eros,
Beauty, Status and Order ratings (p<0.001∗∗∗ across all models
for both of these variables). The interaction term between the
recognition rate and language for the Eros model demonstrated
that the significant contribution of the recognition rate was only
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significant for highly recognized Portuguese (B =3.86, p=0.05),
other languages were not affected by the recognition rate at the
significant level. The interaction term between the recognition
rate and language for the Beauty model demonstrated that the
significant contribution of the recognition rate was significant only
for Norwegian (B =4.82, p=0.03) and Portuguese (B =4.11,
p=0.04). The interaction term between the recognition rate and
language for the Status model demonstrated that the significant
contribution of the recognition rate was significant only for Icelandic
(B =4.06, p=0.02), Norwegian (B =4.61, p=0.02), and
Slovene (B =6.08, p=0.009∗∗). The interaction term between the
recognition rate and language for the Order model demonstrated that
the significant contribution of the recognition rate was significant
for Czech (B =3.85, p=0.05), Icelandic (B =4.82, p=0.007∗∗),
Norwegian (B =5.07, p=0.008∗∗), Swedish (B =3.79, p=0.04),
and Ukrainian (B =5.24 p=0.01). Moreover, not every language
benefited from being recognized: e.g.,: Breton, Danish, Icelandic, and
Polish demonstrated negative relationships between the recognition
rate and Eros ratings (more recognized, less erotic or less recognized,
more erotic). We are not discussing these findings further as none of
the negative relationships reached the significance level (p<0.01).
In addition, the L1 distance contributed significantly to the
ratings of Beauty with more distance between participants’ L1 and the
languages of the experiment corresponding to lower Beauty ratings
(B = 10.41, p=0.007∗∗). Gender of the participants also resulted in
significant results: men rated languages significantly lower for Status
(B = 4.61, p=0.04) and Order (B = 4.94, p=0.03) than
women. Lower self-reported singing ability (B = 1.04, p=0.04)
and fewer foreign languages spoken (B = 1.06, p=0.048) resulted
in higher ratings for Status.
3.3. The contribution of personality factors
to phonaesthetic ratings
Personality features—extraversion, neuroticism,
conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness were fitted to
hierarchical regression models in the second step. The dependent
variables stayed the same—Eros, Beauty, Status and Order ratings.
The random effects included participants and the languages of the
experiment (different intercepts only). The fixed effects included the
significant fixed effects from Step 1 and the personality features. The
addition of the personality features improved all Eros and Beauty
models significantly (a chi-square difference test: p=0.02for Eros,
p=0.055for Beauty) but not for Status and Order. In the case of
Eros, the explained variance in the dependent variable increased
by about 1% after the addition of personality features (R-square =
0.41 for the non-personality model and R-square =0.42 for the
personality model). The same was true for Beauty: (R-square =
0.50 for the non-personality model and R-square =0.49 for the
personality model).
In terms of individual personality factors, neuroticism
contributed negatively and significantly to Eros ratings (B =
0.098, p=0.035) and extraversion contributed negatively and
significantly to Beauty ratings (B = 0.09, p=0.049). At the
trend level, agreeableness affected Beauty ratings positively (B =
0.11, p=0.09) and conscientiousness affected Status positively as
well (B =0.12, p=0.07).
The interaction term between the L1 distance and personality
traits did not reach significance for Beauty ratings meaning that
none of the personality traits affected Beauty ratings in a significantly
different manner (e.g., openness resulted in preference for more
distant language and agreeableness for less distant languages).
3.4. Comparing to data with only
unrecognized languages
As mentioned earlier the recognition rate contributed
significantly to all four phonaesthetic ratings changing the scores by
as much as 1–2 points (positively for Eros, Beauty and Order—the
more languages were recognized the more attractive they seemed
alongside these dimensions, and negatively for Status—unrecognized
languages were rated lower for Status).
In the next step of our analysis we only used the data points
for languages that received the recognition rate equal to zero,
meaning a completely different language was named in response
to the question What was the language you just heard? The same
variables were fitted in two-step hierarchical regression models as
in Sections 3.2 and 3.3. Voice [“subjective voice ratings” (and not
the objective “voice set”)] continued playing a significant role in
all eight models (with and without personality factors, for Eros,
Beauty, Status and Order). Neuroticism still affected Eros ratings
negatively and significantly (B = 0.01, p=0.04). Extraversion
affected Beauty ratings at the trend level (B = 0.08, p=0.1) with
agreeableness no longer in the picture, even at the trend level. We still
observed the trend level effects of conscientiousness on Status ratings
(B =0.12, p=0.07). The number of languages spoken continued
affecting Status ratings negatively (B = 1.17, p=0.04), together
with the trend level effects of singing ability (B = 0.6, p=0.9).
The effects of gender were no longer present in this dataset with
unrecognized languages.
Interestingly, only one model improved significantly from
addition of personality features: the Eros model (a chi-square
difference test: p=0.01). Personality features explained
about 1% of variance in Eros ratings with 0.44% driven by
neuroticism alone.
Regarding the Latin Lover effect, Romance languages do not
lead the list anymore, and now we have favored languages like
Breton, Basque, Greek, and Swedish. Some of them (Breton,
Basque, and Greek) were largely confused with Romance languages
(in about 50% of cases). Once they are unrecognized, the Eros
and Beauty of Portuguese and Catalan plunge down. This loss
is especially pronounced for Catalan that goes from the average
of 52 points to 38 for Eros and from 58 to 42 for Beauty.
Unrecognized Catalan is also not praised for Order (from 58 to
50) and Status (from 53 to 44) anymore. Unrecognized Portuguese
loses 4 points for Eros and 7 points for Beauty; its ratings
for Order and Status are less affected. Interestingly, minority
languages such as Breton and Basque win across all dimensions
when unrecognized. Whereas, Danish and Norwegian seem to
be less attractive in terms of Eros, Beauty, Order, and Status,
when unrecognized.
The leaders are now: for Eros: Greek, Swedish and Breton; for
Beauty: Greek, Breton and Basque; for Order: Hungarian, Latvian,
and Icelandic; for Status: Swedish, Czech, and Polish.
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4. Discussion
The present study aimed to explore the contribution of
personality traits to phonaesthetic judgments of 23 lesser-known
European languages. Our participants rated the languages of the
experiment in terms of eroticism, beauty, status, and orderliness.
While analyzing the resulting data, we first explored the contribution
of non-personality factors to phonaesthetic judgments. We found
that participants’ judgments of some languages were influenced by
the recognition rate—how well they recognized these languages.
Where these relationships were significant, the recognition meant a
higher rating. In our previous studies (Reiterer et al., 2020;Kogan
and Reiterer, 2021), familiarity with languages also increased their
attractiveness. Decades of research into the connection between
familiarity and liking have shown a robust positive correlation
between the two (e.g., Birch and Marlin, 1982), the gist of which is
summarized by an oft-quoted German proverb: “What a farmer does
not know, he does not eat.” Evolutionary psychologists explain this
preference as such: familiar objects are perceived as favorable because
they have been proven harmless after the initial exposure (Bornstein,
989). More recent socio-cognitive explanations point to a facilitation
effect, which occurs when a stimulus is processed on a second or third
occasion (Winkielman and Cacioppo, 2001;Reber et al., 2004). Thus,
familiar languages, requiring less effort to process, might be perceived
as sounding more pleasant because they are easily recognized and
processed by a listener. In this sense, the auditory pleasure derived
from listening to the sounds of language resembles the pleasure
derived from music: anticipation or expectancy (previous knowledge
about a given language or music) is an essential mechanism of a
pleasurable experience (Steinbeis et al., 2006;Vuust and Kringelbach,
Even though the general trend pointed in the direction of “more
recognition—more liking, in this study, the effects of recognition
were different for different languages. Only some languages were
rated significantly higher when recognized: e.g., well-recognized
Portuguese was rated higher for Eros and Beauty; a higher
recognition of the Scandinavian languages (Icelandic, Norwegian,
and Swedish) resulted in higher ratings for Order. On the other hand,
for some languages, recognition was not connected (either positively
or negatively) to phonaesthetic judgments. Thus, the imposed norm
hypothesis (Giles et al., 1974;Chand, 2009;Schüppert et al., 2015)
can be only partially confirmed: it seems that the activation of socio-
cultural aura influences the attitude only toward some languages,
perhaps, the ones that have powerful stereotypes attached to them.
In these experiments such languages were Portuguese (Eros and
Beauty), Scandinavian and Slavic languages of the experiment. On
average, Scandinavian (Germanic) and Slavic languages received
higher ratings for Status and Order as a result of recognition. The
analysis of the common stereotypes attached to these languages and
cultures was outside of the scope of this study.
Another non-personality variable—the distance between
participants’ L1 and the languages of the experiment—contributed
to phonaesthetic judgments of Beauty at a significant level. Overall,
participants found languages more similar to their L1 sounding
more beautiful. This effect was no longer present when only
unfamiliar (unrecognized) languages were used for the analysis,
leading us to the conclusion that the preference for languages closer
to one’s L1 was not so much based on the sound differences as on
a sociocultural distance, i.e., participants preferred languages of
neighboring countries (that were often also typologically closer).
When participants could not make this socio-cultural connection
(did not recognize the language), the relationships between L1 and
the language heard disappeared. Speaking of language distance and
personality, we predicted that higher levels of openness would lead to
higher ratings for languages more distant from the native language.
This hypothesis was based on the previous research showing that
openness is often associated with the willingness to explore the
unknown, openness to new experiences, curiosity (Nettle, 2007) and
open-mindedness/risk-taking (Afhami and Mohammadi-Zarghan,
2018). We did not find relationships between L1 distance and
openness. Participants higher in openness behaved the same way
as other personality types preferring the language more similar to
their L1. It seems that native language overrides personality when
phonaesthetic judgments are involved. Phonaesthetics preferences
for new linguistic stimuli might work differently in comparison
to visual arts (Afhami and Mohammadi-Zarghan, 2018) or music
(Greenberg et al., 2022) where more open individuals do not have
a powerful prior system in place such as a native language when
forming their preferences. We also expected that participants with
a higher level of openness would speak more second languages in
comparison to other personality types and be able to guess more
languages correctly. In fact, our data confirmed the opposite: higher
levels of openness led to lower recognition scores. These unexpected
findings could be due to the fact that our participant group was
a group of people with high openness-scores overall (mean score
equated to 76% out of 100%). Afhami and Mohammadi-Zarghan
(2018) observe that individuals with higher levels of openness show
greater interest in aesthetic judgment tasks and experiments. That
indeed was the case in our study.
We observed the significant effects of gender on Status and
Order ratings with men rating languages for these dimensions lower
than women. Our first explanation was that female listeners could
sympathize with the female voices of the recordings more (e.g.,
Wilding and Cook, 2000). Another possible explanation was that
women are more generous judges overall. For example, in their
experiment on attitudes toward the dialects of the UK, Coupland
and Bishop (2007) observed a similar effect with women rating
the non-native dialects higher than men (and men preferring their
own speech to other dialects). Yet, a recent study conducted by
Sharma et al. (2022) with a similar design reported the absence of
gender-based differences in modern UK. Interestingly, the effects of
gender disappeared in our study when only unrecognized languages
were involved: when participants were no longer able to identify
the languages the ratings coming from men and women were not
significantly different. It seems that women were more susceptible
to the familiarity effects we described above—the finding concurrent
with evolutionary research on sex differences in attraction to familair
stimuli (Little et al., 2014).
4.1. Personality eects on phonaesthetics
The main goal of this study was to explore if personality
contributes to phonaesthetics judgments. We found that higher levels
of neuroticism resulted in lower ratings for Eros, meaning that these
individuals found the languages of the experiment sounding less
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erotic in comparison to other personality types. This relationship
remained significant even when only unrecognized languages were
used for the analysis, thus removing any possible socio-cultural
connotations. This confirmed our speculation that neurotics would
not make happy raters due to their tendency to experience negative
emotions, such as anxiety, worry, shame, guilt, disgust, or grief,
far more strongly than other personality types (Nettle, 2007). Yet,
our hypothesis was only partially confirmed since neurotics did not
differ from other participants when rating languages for Beauty,
Status, and Order. It could be that eroticism is one dimension
neurotics are not comfortable with not necessarily in linguistic terms
but across modalities. A longitudinal study by Fisher and McNulty
(2008) reported that a higher level of neuroticism was associated
with less sexual satisfaction within and outside the marriage. Earlier
studies on neuroticism also observed that individuals with higher
levels of neuroticism tend to les enjoy intimacy, romantic and
erotic life events (Costa et al., 1992;Goldenberg et al., 1999;
Heaven et al., 2000). It seems that neurotics might have a limited
understanding of eroticism as a phonaesthetic dimension and do
not appreciate linguistic stimuli in such terms. In addition, neurotics
rated the languages of the experiment in the more inconsistent
way than other personality types, showing the highest variance in
rating behavior. Previous research has shown that neurotics are not
particularly appreciative of organized systems and the concept of
structure and have difficulty following rules making them rather
sporadic psycholinguistic experiment participants (Bowling et al.,
Based on previous personality research (Nettle, 2007;Bowling
et al., 2011;Carleton, 2016;Proverbio et al., 2018), we expected
extraverts to appreciate languages more in terms of eroticism and
beauty as opposed to other aesthetic dimensions (orderliness/well-
structuredness and social status). Yet, it was the introverts who rated
the languages of the experiment significantly higher for beauty (no
relationships between extraversion/introversion and eroticism). This
effect was also observed with the data consisting of unrecognized
languages only but at a trend level. Proverbio et al. (2018) noticed
that introverts have a higher arousal level compared to extraverts in
response to auditory stimuli. Rizzo-Sierra et al. (2012) call it “the
highly sensitive trait, the ability to process sensory information at
a deeper level—they associate this ability with introversion. Thus, it
could be that introverts in our study were more responsive to the
auditory dimension of linguistic stimuli overall, and thus, appreciated
it more, which resulted in higher phonaesthetic ratings for beauty.
We also observed a tendency for individuals with higher levels
of agreeableness rating languages higher for Beauty. This trend
disappeared when only unrecognized languages were used. One of
our hypotheses stated that higher levels of agreeableness would yield
in ratings consistent with common stereotypes, such as the erotic
Romance languages (Catalan, Portuguese, and Romanian in our
experiment), since more agreeable individuals often follow trends and
like to be in sync with the prevailing opinion (Nettle, 2007). Agreeable
individuals in our study favored Breton, Latvian, and Swedish thus
primarily supporting the non-Romance language families. We also
hypothesized that higher conscientiousness, characterized by order
and discipline, would be associated with higher ratings for Order
(how consistent or well-structured a particular language sounds)
and Status. This hypothesis was only confirmed for Status with
individuals higher in conscientiousness rating languages higher for
perceived prestige than other personality types. We concluded that
personality only partially contributes to phonaesthetics rating with
other powerful variables intertwining such as participants’ native
languages and familiarity with languages.
Throughout the experiment, we noticed that the same languages
at times received opposite treatment by different personality types.
For example, Breton was cherished by introverts for Eros and
dismissed by neurotics alongside the same dimension. For languages
on the verge of extinction, the phonaesthetic allure plays an
important role giving them a strong support and a chance to
survive. Introducing these languages in populations with a specific
psychological profile (e.g., higher or lower on extraversion) might
increase the rate of its learnability. As much as this idea might
seem extreme, matching languages to learners’ individual differences
for optimal learning outcomes is a plausible direction in some
educational environments (MacWhinney, 1995).
4.2. The Latin lover eect and the
inherent/imposed value hypotheses
The data partially confirmed a phenomenon we described in our
previous studies (Reiterer et al., 2020;Kogan and Reiterer, 2021),
the Latin Lover effect. The Latin Lover effect states that, generally
speaking, people find Romance languages (e.g., Spanish, French,
Italian) sounding more erotic and beautiful than non-Romance
languages. Our previous research showed that these languages sound
attractive not only because of their socio-cultural aura (the imposed
value hypothesis) but also because of the high sonority index and a
regular CV (consonant-vowel) syllabic structure (the inherent value
hypothesis). Since most of the languages of the present study were
barely or not recognized, we hoped to observe a more prominent or
pure effect of phonological features on phonaesthetic judgments and
thus to be able to confirm that it is not only the associations that we
have with languages that matter.
The Romance languages of the present study received conditional
preferential treatment (on the condition of recognition) with higher
ratings for Eros (Catalan, Portuguese, and Romanian) and Beauty
(Catalan and Portuguese). Interestingly, Greek, Basque, and Swedish
also led the list for these aesthetic parameters, unconditionally. Just
like most Romance languages, language isolates like Basque or quasi
isolates like Greek are highly sonorous languages, a linguistic feature
typical for languages spoken in a warm climate (Maddieson, 2018).
In our previous studies we showed that sonority is often associated
with Eros and Beauty (Reiterer et al., 2020;Kogan and Reiterer, 2021;
Nemestothy, 2022). That being said, in the current study we did
not see a significant relationship between sonority and Beauty/Eros
ratings. It could be that Eros and Beauty ratings were not that high
in general in this experiment and we did not have the “big shots”
such as French, Spanish, and Italian, the sonority champions. By
investigating less-researched languages we might have leveled out
the variance in the ratings. Overall, the concept of sonority is a
debatable question with conflicting evidence of its acoustic correlates.
Previous research described sonority as loudness (Ladefoged, 2010),
intensity (Parker, 2011), and periodic energy (Albert and Nicenboim,
2020;Albert et al., 2022). With the lack of unanimity on the nature
of the phenomenon it is also challenging to measure it accurately.
Primarily based on English, the existing sonority scales do not allow
for consistent measures cross-linguistically. We used the universal
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sonority scale developed by Nemestothy (2022) that has to be further
tested and confirmed empirically.
Interestingly, highly rated Greek and Basque were frequently
confused with Romance languages. When participants were asked
what language they thought they had heard Basque was confused with
mostly Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese or Romanian (57% of listeners
thought it was a Romance language) and Greek with Portuguese,
Spanish and Latin (30% of listeners). Considering the high ratings
that Basque and Greek received for Eros and Beauty (top two
positions), these findings could be discussed to hint at a possible
subform of a Latin Lover effect or show a “masked Latin Lover
effect.” Somehow Romance languages—genuine or not—still enjoy
a preferential treatment by listeners. Breton, the third most erotic
language of the experiment when unrecognized and the sixth most
erotic language of the experiment when recognized (after Catalan,
Basque, and Portuguese) was labeled by half of the participants as
a Romance language with 9% identifying it as French. In essence,
there is little to no Latin Lover effect observable in this study, yet
these data are in favor of the imposed value hypothesis that states that
listeners’ attitudes are guided by their knowledge about the language,
its speakers and the culture behind it. It looks like once participants
labeled Greek, Basque, and Breton as Romance languages (to a high
degree), they liked them more or this influenced their likability
ratings. We called this the “Romanization effect” (Nemestothy, 2022).
It must be also noted that due to poor acoustic quality of the
recording we had to exclude Corsican, one of the four Romance
languages of experiment from the statistical analysis and further
discussion. Thus, we ended up with only three representatives for
this category (Portuguese, Catalan, Romanian) whereas all other
languages families (Germanic and Slavic) had four languages per
family. This is a clear limitation of the current study as we do not
know how Corsican would have been perceived as a representative
of a Romance language. This should be addressed and improved
in future research and has to be kept in mind when discussing the
Romance languages in this experiment.
For status, Germanic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish,
and Icelandic) were on the top of the list, conditioned moderately
by recognition. This finding goes along with our previous research
that demonstrated that Germanic languages are usually perceived as
languages of higher status, at the same time sounding the least erotic
or beautiful (Reiterer et al., 2020). Just as in Reiterer et al. (2020),
orderliness yielded an inconsistent pattern of ratings with several
language families occupying the top three positions, Germanic and
Slavic usually amongst. What is interesting is that, once again,
Romance languages were repeatedly not perceived as well-structured
or ordered: Portuguese occupied the 15th place and Catalan the 16th
with Romanian taking the 20th place out of the 23 languages of the
experiment. 0% of Romance languages were in the top tertile of the
orderliness scale-scorings (but again, we unfortunately do not know
for Corsican).
We were not able to replicate the relationships between speech
rate and phonaesthetic ratings that we observed in our previous
research (Kogan and Reiterer, 2021). Just like with music (Juslin and
Laukka, 2003;Ma and Thompson, 2015), participants in our previous
studies found faster languages more arousing and excitable, rating
them higher for Eros. Faster languages were also rated higher for
Beauty. Although the direction of the relationship was the same in
this study (faster languages, higher ratings for Eros and Beauty), this
relationship did not reach the significance level. One explanation for
these results could be that the measurements of speech rate were
not accurate. This explanation is unlikely though: our speech rate
measurements were based on two voices per language, and they
correlated significantly with the measurements from Coupé et al.
(2019) and our previous studies that used some of the languages of
the current study. Another explanation for such results is the diverse
linguistic sample of this study which poses many methodological
struggles in conceptualizing certain segmental and suprasegmental
phenomena. For example, languages allow different syllabic nuclei
making it hard to define a concept of a syllable and thus counting
the number of syllables per second to obtain the speech rate.
When only the cases with unrecognized languages were used in
the dataset, Romance languages lost their allure, Germanic languages
lost their status. Catalan and Portuguese were particularly affected,
bringing us back to the imposed norm hypothesis: the phonaesthetics
ratings of Romance languages are highly susceptible to the influence
of the sociocultural aura. Once participants realize they are listening
to a Romance language, they are immediately under an impression of
eroticism and beauty.
One surprising discovery was how much Breton benefited
from being unrecognized. This language was among the
three most erotic and beautiful languages of the experiment
when not recognized by participants. It seems that the
socio-political tension around Breton contributed negatively
to its charm. It appears like a “Latin-like-lover” which
can compete on a phonaesthetic level with the charms of
Romance languages.
4.3. Individual dierences: Polyglotism,
musicality, and mobility
In the present study, we tried to capture a number of individual
differences that could potentially influence our results. In our
previous studies, polyglotism (a number of foreign languages spoken)
and musical abilities contributed to phonaesthetics judgments with
polyglots and more musical individuals rating languages higher for
Eros and Beauty (Reiterer et al., 2020;Kogan and Reiterer, 2021).
There is also a fair guess that individuals who traveled extensively or
lived abroad (mobility) were exposed to a variety of foreign languages
and this could affect their judgments as well. None of these variables
contributed to Eros and Beauty ratings in this study. Yet, a greater
number of languages spoken and superior singing skills resulted in
lower ratings for Status. More in-depth exploration of individual
differences is necessary to disentangle these connections. For one,
there is a growing body of research related to individual differences
in linguistic perception that might be relevant to our study. Lidji
et al. (2011) compared the rhythm perception of monolingual French
and English participants as well as French-English bilinguals when
tapping to French and English spoken sentences. The study revealed
that both the listener’s native language and the language-specific
acoustics affected the obtained tapping patterns. Rathcke and Lin
(2021) report individual differences in prosodic processing related to
short-term memory (and dyslexia). Prosody is frequently referred to
as music of the language (Patel et al., 2006;Chow and Brown, 2018),
and thus, it is important to understand how differences in individual
Frontiers in Language Sciences 15
Winkler et al. 10.3389/flang.2023.1043619
perception of prosody contribute to participants’ auditory experience.
We hope to explore it further in our future studies.
5. Conclusion
We observed some effects of personality traits on phonaesthetic
judgments. In our previous studies (Reiterer et al., 2020;Kogan and
Reiterer, 2021), we made a claim that the beauty of a language is
at least partially (10–30%) an inherent characteristic of a linguistic
system itself (sonority, speech rate). We did not confirm these
findings in the current study. Instead, it seems that to some
degree the sound-based beauty of language is “in the eye of the
beholder” and quite individualistic within certain overarching socio-
cultural construals. Participants, especially neurotics, introverts and
individuals with higher conscientiousness levels, were influenced
by their personality when they rated the linguistic stimuli for
phonaesthetics dimensions.
Data availability statement
The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be
made available by the authors, without undue reservation.
Ethics statement
Ethical review and approval was not required for the study
of human participants in accordance with the local legislation
and institutional requirements. Written informed consent
from the participants was not required to participate in this
study in accordance with the national legislation and the
institutional requirements.
Author contributions
AW and SR contributed to conception and experimental design,
and data collection and interpretation. AW and VK contributed
to data analysis, helped in drafting, wrote, and revised the article
critically. All authors contributed to the article and approved the
submitted version.
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to everybody who was
and is involved in creating this experiment and enabling this research
project to be conducted, namely the Phonaesthetics Research Group
(SR, Max Sinnl, AW, and Lukas Nemestothy) as well as Žiga Bogataj
and VK for their previous work and ongoing unstinting support as
well as very much appreciated expertise. We would also like to express
our deepest gratitude to the Faculty of Philology and Cultural Studies’
MediaLab and its staff members (special thanks to the head of the
lab, Dr. Jörg Mühlhans), who are indispensable, essential cooperation
partners for this project. We are also grateful to each of our native
speakers, who lend their voices to us, as well as to those who provided
translations of the text we used or supported us with their advice and
last but not least to the Breton Radio broadcaster Radio Kreiz Breizh
( who sent us high quality recordings (Sandrig
Ar Gall, Russel Azzopardi, Jorge Balmaseda Hernandez, Alberta
Borg, Aziliz Bourges, Josette Bouvet-Le Meur, Ivana Benatinská,
Kateryna Bondareva, Camila, Kristine Cardella-Goetz, Lana Cerne,
Iulia Chera, L. Cheveau, Jeanne Chevrel, Emma Chira, Amanda
Christiansen, Christine, Christos, Yuna Cojean, Marta Csire, Laura
Dalla Libera, Margherita de Gregorio, Joseph Debono, Gulsah
Ekizer, Fanny, Daniela Estevao Fernandes, Froukje, Susan Gabriel-
Dennis, Itsaso Garaikoetxea, Jan Geeraerts, Gloria, Regine Guillemot,
Darija Halkic, Hanna, Hege, Heikki, Henrik, Ine, Nerys Jones,
Joris, Masa Kajtazovic, Aleksandrs Kalejs, Katerina, Irmak Kapusiz,
Fatos Kapusiz, Petra Kartela, Eirini Katrantzi, Mark Kerrain, Mona
Khader, Dina Khiralla, Alan Kloareg, Tunvezh Gwlagen-Grandjean,
Zlatan Kojadinovic, Kristina Kuli, Sandrine Laplanche, Rozenn Le
Dreau, Olatz Leturiaga Angoitia, Madis Liias, Fiorda Llukmani,
John Linder, Linnea, Aitor Lizardi Ituarte, Anna Louvrou, Megan,
Melitza, Marjeta Merjasec, Rexhina Merkohitaj, Michelle, Catalina
Anna Moragues Costa, Bridget Moran, Barbora Neradová, Maire
Ni Charra, Tania Margarida Oliveira Amaral, Uxue Otxandorena
Ieregi, Lenka Peugniez, Brisilda Plaku, Pamela M. Pereira, Lidia
Zita Pimentel Pereira, Michel Priziac, Erla Ragenheið*ur, Tina
Roenhovde Tiller, Karina Rurarz, Sif Rytter, Anna Sensat, Susan Shea,
Alexander Sigmund, Anna Konstancja Skoczylas, Maya Stateva, Dina
Talypova, Merit Tambu, Henna Talvensaari, Peter Thompson, Liisi
Törmäkangas, Riina Treffner, Ellis Vaughan, Gabriela Vrzalová, Alina
Yanni, Eleni Zotou, and Sintija Žubure). We had the privilege to work
with wonderful people, who came from a very broad and interesting
background, from various fields such as the arts, featuring pianists,
composers, actresses or writers, from philosophy and languages, from
the radio, university lecturers and scientists or also speakers from
other domains, like international diplomacy. Many thanks to each
of these contributors for being part of the project and making it an
inspiringly enriching and enjoyable cooperation.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be
construed as a potential conflict of interest.
Publisher’s note
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the
authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated
organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers.
Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may
be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the
Supplementary material
The Supplementary Material for this article can be found
online at:
Frontiers in Language Sciences 16
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Developmental dyslexia is typically defined as a difficulty with an individual's command of written language, arising from deficits in phonological awareness. However, motor entrainment difficulties in non-linguistic synchronization and time-keeping tasks have also been reported. Such findings gave rise to proposals of an underlying rhythm processing deficit in dyslexia, even though to date, evidence for impaired motor entrainment with the rhythm of natural speech is rather scarce, and the role of speech rhythm in phonological awareness is unclear. The present study aimed to fill these gaps. Dyslexic adults and age-matched control participants with variable levels of previous music training completed a series of experimental tasks assessing phoneme processing, rhythm perception , and motor entrainment abilities. In a rhythm entrainment task, participants tapped along to the perceived beat of natural spoken sentences. In a phoneme processing task, participants monitored for sonorant and obstruent phonemes embedded in nonsense strings. Individual sensorimo-tor skills were assessed using a number of screening tests. The results lacked evidence for a motor impairment or a general motor entrainment difficulty in dyslexia, at least among adult participants of the study. Instead, the results showed that the participants' performance in the phonemic task was predictive of their performance in the rhythmic task, but not vice versa, suggesting that atypical rhythm processing in dyslexia may be the consequence, but not the cause, of dyslexic difficulties with phoneme-level encoding. No evidence for a deficit in the entrainment to the syllable rate in dyslexic adults was found. Rather, metrically weak syllables were significantly less often at the center of rhythmic attention in dyslexic adults as compared to neurotypical controls, with an increased tendency in musically trained participants. This finding could not be explained by an auditory deficit in the processing of acoustic-prosodic cues to the rhythm structure, but it is likely to be related to the well-documented auditory short-term memory issue in dyslexia.
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This paper concerns sound aesthetic preferences for European foreign languages. We investigated the phonetic-acoustic dimension of the linguistic aesthetic pleasure to describe the “music” found in European languages. The Romance languages, French, Italian, and Spanish, take a lead when people talk about melodious language – the music-like effects in the language (a.k.a., phonetic chill). On the other end of the melodiousness spectrum are German and Arabic that are often considered sounding harsh and un-attractive. Despite the public interest, limited research has been conducted on the topic of phonaesthetics, i.e., the subfield of phonetics that is concerned with the aesthetic properties of speech sounds (Crystal, 2008). Our goal is to fill the existing research gap by identifying the acoustic features that drive the auditory perception of language sound beauty. What is so music-like in the language that makes people say “it is music in my ears”? We had 45 central European participants listening to 16 auditorily presented European languages and rating each language in terms of 22 binary characteristics (e.g., beautiful – ugly, funny - boring) plus indicating their language familiarities, L2 backgrounds, speaker voice liking, demographics and musicality levels. Findings revealed that all factors in complex interplay explain a certain percentage of variance: familiarity and expertise in foreign languages, speaker voice characteristics, phonetic complexity, musical acoustic properties, and finally musical expertise of the listener. The most important discovery was the trade-off between speech tempo and so-called linguistic melody (pitch variance): the faster the language, the flatter/more atonal it is in terms of the pitch (speech melody), making it highly appealing acoustically (sounding beautiful and sexy), but not so melodious in a “musical” sense.