Sound symbolism in deictic words  

Hartmut Traunmüller

In Tongues and Texts Unlimited. Studies in Honour of Tore Jansson on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Anniversary. Hans Aili and Peter af Trampe (eds.) Stockholms Universitet, Institutionen för klassiska språk (2000): 213-234.

ABSTRACT

After a short introduction to the phenomenon of sound symbolism, its possible effects on the proximal and distal demonstratives and the personal pronouns of the first and second person are investigated. For this purpose, word pairs in which there is a straight forward difference that is compatible with or contrary to the expectations suggested by sound symbolism have been counted. Forms with a common etymology have been taken as a single case. The results confirm that vowels in proximal demonstratives tend to have a higher 'sibilant pitch', or F2', than do those in the distal demonstratives of the same languages, and they show that such forms have an advantage in their struggle for existence in languages. Counterexamples are found only in languages with a small number of speakers. It is, further, found that nasals are preferred in first person pronouns while stops and other obstruents are preferred in second person pronouns. This is attributed to the proprioceptive qualities of these classes of speech sounds. In addition, it is suggested that association with lingual or labial pointing gestures may affect the preferences of consonants. It is observed that the pronouns of most language groups of Europe and Northern Asia are likely to be etymologically related, while sound symbolism may have contributed to the survival of their similarities. It is, however, also shown that similarities that have been taken as evidence for far-reaching genetic relationships can sometimes be readily understood as genetically independent reflections of universal sound symbolism.


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