Similarities among the world’s languages may be driven by universal features of human cognition or perception. For example, many languages form complex words by adding suÿxes to the ends of simpler words, but adding prefixes is much less common: why might this be?Previous research suggests this is due to a domain-general perceptual bias: sequences di˙ering at their ends are perceived as more similar to each other than sequences di˙ering at their beginnings. However, as is typical in psycholinguistic research, the evidence comes exclusively from one population—English speakers—who have extensive experience with suÿxing. Here we provide a much stronger test of this claim, by investigating perceptual similarity judgments in speakers of Kîîtharaka, a heavily-prefixing Bantu language spoken in rural Kenya. We find that Kîîtharaka speakers (N=72) show the opposite judgments to English speakers (N=51), calling into question whether a universal bias in human perception can explain the suÿxing preference in the world’s languages.
- word recognition
- cross-cultural differences
- open data
- open materials
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