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The typology of sound symbolism : Defining macro-concepts via their semantic and phonetic features

Johansson, Niklas LU ; Anikin, Andrey LU orcid ; Carling, Gerd LU and Holmer, Arthur LU (2020) In Linguistic Typology 24(2). p.253-310
Abstract
Sound symbolism emerged as a prevalent component in the origin and development of language. However, as previous studies have either been lacking in scope or in phonetic granularity, the present study investigates the phonetic and semantic features involved from a bottom-up perspective. By analyzing the phonemes of 344 near-universal concepts in 245 language families, we establish 125 sound-meaning associations. The results also show that between 19 and 40 of the items of the Swadesh-100 list are sound symbolic, which calls into question the list’s ability to determine genetic relationships. In addition, by combining co-occurring semantic and phonetic features between the sound symbolic concepts, 20 macro-concepts can be identified, e. g.... (More)
Sound symbolism emerged as a prevalent component in the origin and development of language. However, as previous studies have either been lacking in scope or in phonetic granularity, the present study investigates the phonetic and semantic features involved from a bottom-up perspective. By analyzing the phonemes of 344 near-universal concepts in 245 language families, we establish 125 sound-meaning associations. The results also show that between 19 and 40 of the items of the Swadesh-100 list are sound symbolic, which calls into question the list’s ability to determine genetic relationships. In addition, by combining co-occurring semantic and phonetic features between the sound symbolic concepts, 20 macro-concepts can be identified, e. g. basic descriptors, deictic distinctions and kinship attributes. Furthermore, all identified macro-concepts can be grounded in four types of sound symbolism: (a) unimodal imitation (onomatopoeia); (b) cross-modal imitation (vocal gestures); (c) diagrammatic mappings based on relation (relative); or (d) situational mappings (circumstantial). These findings show that sound symbolism is rooted in the human perception of the body and its interaction with the surrounding world, and could therefore have originated as a bootstrapping mechanism, which can help us understand the bio-cultural origins of human language, the mental lexicon and language diversity.
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author
; ; and
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
in
Linguistic Typology
volume
24
issue
2
pages
58 pages
publisher
De Gruyter
external identifiers
  • scopus:85082060075
ISSN
1430-0532
DOI
10.1515/lingty-2020-2034
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
1734f503-4fe1-4e48-9bf1-e4d5325353c6
date added to LUP
2019-10-10 13:33:47
date last changed
2021-10-06 01:06:09
@article{1734f503-4fe1-4e48-9bf1-e4d5325353c6,
  abstract     = {Sound symbolism emerged as a prevalent component in the origin and development of language. However, as previous studies have either been lacking in scope or in phonetic granularity, the present study investigates the phonetic and semantic features involved from a bottom-up perspective. By analyzing the phonemes of 344 near-universal concepts in 245 language families, we establish 125 sound-meaning associations. The results also show that between 19 and 40 of the items of the Swadesh-100 list are sound symbolic, which calls into question the list’s ability to determine genetic relationships. In addition, by combining co-occurring semantic and phonetic features between the sound symbolic concepts, 20 macro-concepts can be identified, e. g. basic descriptors, deictic distinctions and kinship attributes. Furthermore, all identified macro-concepts can be grounded in four types of sound symbolism: (a) unimodal imitation (onomatopoeia); (b) cross-modal imitation (vocal gestures); (c) diagrammatic mappings based on relation (relative); or (d) situational mappings (circumstantial). These findings show that sound symbolism is rooted in the human perception of the body and its interaction with the surrounding world, and could therefore have originated as a bootstrapping mechanism, which can help us understand the bio-cultural origins of human language, the mental lexicon and language diversity.<br/>},
  author       = {Johansson, Niklas and Anikin, Andrey and Carling, Gerd and Holmer, Arthur},
  issn         = {1430-0532},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {2},
  pages        = {253--310},
  publisher    = {De Gruyter},
  series       = {Linguistic Typology},
  title        = {The typology of sound symbolism : Defining macro-concepts via their semantic and phonetic features},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/lingty-2020-2034},
  doi          = {10.1515/lingty-2020-2034},
  volume       = {24},
  year         = {2020},
}