UCL News


Spotlight on: David Sidhu

22 April 2021

This week we meet David Sidhu, Research Fellow in the Language and Cognition Laboratory, who chats to us about his research on sound symbolism.

David Sidhu

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a research fellow in the Language and Cognition Laboratory run by Dr. Gabriella Vigliocco. There I am working along with Dr. Vigliocco and others in the lab on a few different research projects. I’m also helping to supervise a few undergraduate and graduate students. These projects all relate to how multimodal aspects of language (e.g., tone of voice, gesture) affect language processing.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I began my current position in February of 2020. Before this I was working as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Calgary, where I did my graduate studies.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I published a paper with my graduate supervisor Dr. Penny Pexman called “The Five Mechanisms of Sound Symbolism”. Sound symbolism is a phenomenon in which people will associate certain language sounds with certain kinds of things. For example, when shown a round and a spiky shape, and asked which is the bouba and which is the kiki, almost everyone will say bouba is the round shape and kiki the spiky shape. No one had really addressed why these associations exist, but there were bits and pieces out there. This paper collected and organized all of those pieces into five possible explanations. It was a lot of reading (of new and old papers; the idea goes back at least to Plato!) and late night white-boarding, but I’m very happy with how it turned out!

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

I am working on a paper with Dr. Viglicco and Dr. Pexman in which we look at all different kinds of sound symbolism effects. So, in addition to some sounds going with round vs. spiky shapes, sounds also go with big vs. small shapes, fast vs. slow movements, masculine vs. feminine things, and so on. In this paper we look at how all of these different associations fit together.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Film: The Big Lebowski 
Novel: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

One that comes to mind is from The Simpsons. The scene opens with Bart in the middle of a conversation with Lisa, he only gets through “so then I says to Mabel I says–” before Homer interrupts them. I love the anachronism of that old-timey phrasing. There’s no way an American kid in the 90’s would a) say something like that, or b) know someone named Mabel. It’s a throwaway line that has nothing to do with the story, but it kills me every time.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

John Frusciante, Jorge Luis Borges, David Chase and Susanna Clarke.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Sometimes your mind can be an unreliable narrator. Also, even though you can sit in any position for hours and not be in any pain, it won’t always be like that, so for the love of God get in the habit of sitting up straight!

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I have seen every episode of Survivor (the American reality show). Not only that, but I more or less watched them all live as they aired. For context, the show just finished its 40th season…

What is your favourite place?

I’ll go with: a ravine near where I grew up in Toronto!