What's in a Word?
Studies in Phonosemantics

Margaret Magnus

Submitted to NTNU for evaluation for the degree 'Doctor Philosophiae'

Accepted for degree of Doctor Philosophiae
University of Trondheim
Trondheim, Norway
Lars Hellan, Catherine Chvany, Greg Carlson, Wim Vaan Dommelen

Literature Review
Theoretical Preliminaries
Theory and Review


To Catherine Chvany and Lars Hellan especially -- two of the finest linguists I have ever had the pleasure to know. My gratitude goes out not only for these last months, but in general for years and years of support, through thick and through thin. Were it not for the support and encouragement of these two, I would not have had the strength to pull through not only with this particular dissertation, but with the project of becoming a linguist altogether. That is a fact. It was Lars who, at the lowest point in my lingistics career, when I didn't graduate from MIT, offered me a very good teaching and research position in Trondheim, and with it my only tangible hope of a degree and involvement in the academic community. When many years later I suggested the possibility to Lars of submitting a dissertation to the University of Trondheim, upon reading the abstract, he took me on immediately and dug up the necessary funding, as he has done with so many others.

I met Catherine Chvany my first year at MIT, when she got me a position as tutor to the Russian House dormitory. And when things began to get tough for me at MIT, she was one of the few who kept me sane. Over the years she has taken the trouble to read and comment on much of what I have written simply out of the goodness of her heart. Nothing was ever in it for her. I sent her a version of this dissertation as well, and before she even knew she would be on the committee, she read it through thoroughly and provided numerous comments and suggestions. When later through a very curious coincidence she actually ended up being on the committee, she read through it again twice more, once again providing hundreds of comments and suggestions on every level from theoretical concerns that I had not considered to typographical errors to suggestions regarding how it might be reorganized so it was clearer and easier to read. The kindness and support she has shown me throughout the years has been astounding -- plain and simple.

Katya couldn't attend the defense, as her husband fell ill in the last minute, and she was replaced by Wim Van Dommelen, who also read through it with much more care than any student could hope for from a last-minute committee member. Thank you also, Greg Carlson, who flew all the way from Rochester to Norway on behalf of someone you have never met... thanks for a very happy defense. It was a genuine pleasure to meet both these men

There is one other linguist I wish to mention, who although he was not involved with this particular dissertation, has had immense influence over my linguistic thinking, and who like Lars and Catherine took me on not in the moment when I succeeded, but in the moment when I failed. That is Haj Ross. Haj introduced me to sound symbolism. Haj imbued me with a sense of the magic in language and in life altogether. Haj left a full tenured professorship at MIT to start a business with two nobodies -- Sasha Nizhnikov and me. Haj changed cooked us dinners, washed our dishes, changed our daughter's diapers. Haj kept us laughing when not much at all seemed very funny. And I've never heard Haj speak an unkind word about anyone.

Apart from their purely moral support, these three have had a powerful influence on my linguistic thinking as well. Lars' writing on propositions and anaphoric binding jiggled the first realizations in my mind that it was content that was determining structure. Catherine has a very strong sense of the history of the field, and a better knowledge of the literature preceding 1960 than anyone in the MIT lingujistics department, so that when the upstarts were laying claim left and right to new linguistic findings, she could tell me when and where those realizations had been made before, reminding me of the immense gains that have been made in the past and of our indebtedness to it. So despite considerable temptations, she kept her theoretical feet firmly on the ground, never floating off into the meaningless theoretical abstractions that came one after the other into vogue... her patient example helped keep me similarly grounded. And Haj has an incredible intuitive sense for language. It was through Haj that the other dimension on the back side of language opened itself up for me. It was Haj who enabled me to feel those mysterious sound-meanings. He sat me down despite my resistance and had me recite poetry, to listen to what was going on, and in his playful way, wouldn't let go until I had heard.

I'm no less indebted to my beautiful mother, who literally made this work possible by supporting me materially as I was writing it. Her generosity throughout has been unconditional, unsolicited and disarmingly cheerful. She has followed me through this process with great interest as a good friend, advisor and confidante.

Thanks to my children, Rachel and Arne, who keep me young and on my toes. Thanks to my baby brother, John, and to his wife, Terri, for providing an alternative place to hang out, shoot the breeze and play Mah Jongg in the evenings. And to all my friends and supporters who have endured my interminable sound-meaning talk and my other extraneous rantings and ravings with a smile, including but not limited to Frank Abbate, Thomas Everth, Joseph Gilbert, Kay Gillespie, Linda Hardesty, Dick Kane, Allen Kaplan, Aron Katsenelinboigen, Irina Kirilenko, TK, Volodya Kozhemiakov, Kristin Kvam, Paul Magnus, Sasha Nizhnikov, Charles Pyle, Alexander Romanul, Andrew Rothovius, Sid Shinedling, Constantin Simun, Stephanie Smolinsky, Danny Solomon, Janice Tarver and Charles Zapata. Thanks, folks.