Åsa Abelin's Dissertation

STUDIES IN SOUND SYMBOLISM

Abstract

 

This thesis investigates how the Swedish lexicon is structured with respect to sound symbolism, the productivity of phonesthemes and cross language similarities in certain areas of sound symbolism. The Swedish lexicon has been analyzed with emphasis on the sound symbolic properties of initial and final consonant clusters, and to a certain extent of vowels. Approximately 1, 000 lexemes were judged to be sound symbolic and the outcome of the analysis are tentative phonesthemes, i.e. motivated connections between meanings and consonant clusters. Almost all Swedish initial consonant clusters and many of the final consonant clusters may carry sound symbolic meanings. Lexically infrequent clusters are utilized to a larger extent than lexically frequent clusters. No two consonant clusters have exactly the same semantic profile. Phonesthemes have different sound symbolic strength, i.e. some are clearly sound symbolic (i.e. a high percentage of the words beginning with a certain cluster are sound symbolic), and carry either one meaning or several meanings. Other (candidates for) phonesthemes are weaker and not so clearly sound symbolic. The meanings of most phonesthemes are relatable to the senses: hearing, vision or tactile sensation, or they are metaphorically or metonymically connected to the senses. The most common semantic features occurring are often related to synaesthesia. The productivity of phonesthemes was tested in experiments of production and understanding. The experiments show that in interpretation no constructed word is interpreted as expected by all subjects, but that all of the constructed words are interpreted correctly by some subjects. The most common semantic features found in the lexical analysis are also often the most successfully interpreted by subjects.

For production, the experiments indicate that subjects tend to encode the semantic features in initial clusters rather than in final clusters. Final consonant clusters seem to be of less importance than the initial clusters in new sound symbolic words in Swedish.For the contrastive studies, the general results are that there are both similarities and differences between the expressions in the different languages. The variation is greater for some semantic fields than for others.

 

CONTENTS

Chapter 0 Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Background 3
Chapter 2 Theoretical framework 48
Chapter 3 Method 67
Chapter 4 Analysis of initial consonant clusters 73
Chapter 5 Analysis of final consonant clusters, vowels and combinations. 139
Chapter 6 Some contrastive studies in sound symbolism 185
Chapter 7 Experiments with words constructed from phonesthemes 215
Chapter 8 Summary and discussion 240

Appendix 1: Sound symbolic roots of initial clusters
Appendix 2: Interjections of cross language study
Appendix 3: Test sheets of chapter 7 Studies in Sound symbolism


0 Introduction 1
1 Background 3
1.1 Purpose of the chapter 3
1.2 Terminology 3
1.2.1 Onomatopoeia 3
1.2.2 Sound symbolism 3
1.2.3 Phonestheme 4
1.2.4 Ideophone 4
1.2.5 Morpheme 5
1.2.6 Conclusion 8
1.3 Is sound symbolism the rule or the exception in language? 9
1.3.1 Sound symbolism is an exception 9
1.3.2 Symbolism is fundamental to language 9
1.3.3 Sound symbolism is both inside and outside of language 11
1.3.4 Evaluation of discussion of sound symbolism 12
1.4 Is sound symbolism productive or not? 12
1.4.1 Sound symbolism is not productive 12
1.4.2 Sound symbolism is productive 13
1.4.3 Greater or lesser degree of productivity 13
1.4.4 Evaluation of the discussion of productivity 13
1.5 The question of etymology 14
1.6 The phylogenesis of language 18
1.7 Universality versus language specificity 20
1.7.1 Sound symbolism is universal 20
1.7.2 Symbolism is not universal 21
1.7.3 Evaluation of the discussion of universality versus language specificity in sound symbolism 22
1.8 Context 23
1.9 A framework for models of sound symbolism 26
1.10 Expression and content of sound symbolism 28
1.10.1 Expression 29
1.10.2 Content 29
1.10.3 Expression and content in different analyses 29
1.10.4 Results - data from different authors 31
1.10.5 Experimental results 37
1.11 Possible explanations of sound symbolism 41
1.11.1 Miscellaneous explanations and proprioception 41
1.11.2 Synaesthesia 43
1.11.3 Other neurological and biological explanations 44
1.11.4 Non- biological explanations 46
2 Theoretical framework 48
2.1 General considerations 48
2.2 Static-dynamic, conventionality and arbitrariness 48
2.3 Semantic analysis 50
2.3.1 Conceptions of meaning 50
2.3.2 Semantic features and semantic fields 51
2.4 Basic relations between expression and content 52
2.5 The nature of phonesthemes 55
2.6 Considerations for a model 58
2.6.1 Relations between the categories 61
2.6.2 An explanatory model for sound symbolism 64
3 Method 67
3.1 Stage 1: Collection of lexical material 67
3.2 Stage 2: Cross-language comparisons 70
3.2.1 Cross-language thesaurus studies 70
3.2.2 Cross-language informant studies 70
3.3 Stage 3: Experiments 72
3.3.1 Experiments with neologisms 72
3.4 Additional method 72
4 Analysis of the initial consonant clusters 73
4.1 Data analysis, a short overview 73
4.2 Results 75
4.2.1 More and less sound symbolic clusters 76
4.2.2 Proportions of motivated root morphemes. Summary 82
4.2.3 Types of meaning 84
4.3 Frequent semantic features 89
4.3.1 Pejorative 89
4.3.2 Sound 96
4.3.3 Long thin form 101
4.3.4 Quick or strong movement 104
4.3.5 The most sound symbolic clusters 111
4.4 Frequent clusters 113
4.4.1 The cluster sl- 113
4.4.2 The cluster sn- 116
4.4.3 The cluster kn- 118
4.4.4 The cluster kr- 120
4.4.5 The cluster fn- 122
4.4.6 The cluster kn- 124
4.4.7 The cluster gn- 124
4.4.8 The cluster spr- 126
4.4.9 The cluster pj- 127
4.5 Typical or unique meanings 128
4.6 Patterns of semantic features 131
4.7 Discussion and conclusions 137
5 Analysis of final consonant clusters, vowels and combinations 139
5.1 Final clusters 139
5.2 Summary of the analysis of semantic features for final clusters 146
5.3 Properties of consonant clusters of Nusvensk Frekvensordbok 148
5.3.1 Summary of the analysis of properties of different final clusters 161
5.4 Vowels 161
5.4.1 Vowel pairs and triplets 161
5.4.2 Vowels in light/gaze-words 163
5.4.3 The vowel [P] 164
5.4.4 Summary of vowels 164
5.5 Comparisons of final clusters of roots from different sources 164
5.5.1 NFO4 and Sigurd (1965) 164
5.5.2 The most frequent final clusters in NFO4 168
5.5.3 Discussion of final clusters in Svensk Baklängesordbok and of Nusvensk Frekvensordbok 169
5.6 Combinations of initial and final consonant clusters 171
5.6.1 Initial cluster + no final cluster 172
5.6.2 No initial cluster + final cluster 176
Initial cluster + final cluster 179
Summary of combinations 182
Summary and discussion of initial and final clusters, and vowels 183
6 Some contrastive studies in sound symbolism 185
6.1 Introduction 185
6.2 The Thesaurus study 185
6.2.1 Method 185
6.2.2 Results 186
6.2.2.1Words for 'stupidity' in English 186
6.2.2.2 Words for 'stupidity' in Swedish 186
6.2.2.3 Words for 'surface structure' in English 187
6.2.2.4 Words for 'surface structure' in Swedish 188
6.2.3 Conclusions of the Thesaurus study 189
6.3 Some interjections in different languages 190
6.3.1 Swedish expressive interjections 191
6.3.2 Discussion of Swedish expressive interjections, commands and greetings 192
6.3.3 Phonological and phonetic similarities and dissimilarities between interjections of different languages 193
6.4 Imitations of animal calls 198
6.4.1 Expressions for animal calls in Swedish and other
languages 198
6.4.2 A test of expressions for animal calls of different languages 201
6.4.3 Results from a test of expressions for animal calls in different languages 202
6.4.4 Discussion of the test on identifying animal calls 203
6.5 Conclusions of studies of expressive interjections and expressions of animal calls 204
6.6 Test of cross language interpretation of Swedish onomatopoeic and other sound symbolic words 205
6.6.1 Method 205
6.6.2 Results of interpretation of cross language Swedish onomatopoeic and other sound symbolic words 207
6.6.3 Conclusions from the test on cross language interpretation of Swedish onomatopoeic and other sound symbolic words 211
6. 7 General conclusions and discussion of the cross language studies 213
7 Experiments with words constructed from phonesthemes 215
7.1 Production and understanding 215
7.1.1 Forced choice for production - from meaning to phonological (graphic) form 219
7.1.2 Forced choice for understanding - from phonological form to meaning 222
7.1.3 Free production test from constructed words to meanings 225
7.1.4 Free production from meaning to constructed word 228
7.1.5 Matching test of nonsense words and meanings 234
7.1.6 Summary of results of tests on interpreting meanings and sounds 235
8 Summary and discussion 240
8.1 The research questions were as follows: 240
8.1.1 Question 1 241
8.1.2 Question 2 246
8.1.3 Question 3 250
8.1.4 Question 4 252
8.2 Comparison of the studies 252
8.3 Possible explanations of onomatopoeia and sound symbolism 257
8.3.1 Pejoratives 260
8.3.2 Summary 261
8.4 Predictions for sound symbolism in Swedish 262
8.5 Main objectives and further research 265