Sound and Sense

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Phonaestheme or Phonestheme

From: Helge Gundersen
Date: 8/4/00
Time: 3:15:27 PM
Remote Name:


phonestheme: a meaningful portion of a root. Discussion: * A phonestheme may be a single speech sound, or two or more sounds joining to express one meaning in the word. * Can a phonestheme ever be a part of an affix? * Prosodic features, orthography, and sign language is not considered [yet]. * There may be more than one phonestheme in a word, and they may or may not be synonymous. It is conceivable that a certain whole root (e.g., an interjection) may be entirely made up of one phonestheme, in the case that the sequence of sounds is attested as a phonestheme in a root elsewhere, with the same meaning. * A phonestheme has typically one of certain types of meaning (however these should be described), but the definition is morphological, not semantic. If an atypical meaning occurs, then it is suggested that the unit in question would still be considered a phonestheme, and, if desired, sorted out from the typical specimens on a purely semantic basis. (An alternative would be to use a combination of morphology and semantics in the definition of a phonestheme, but then one would have to explicate the types of meaning in question.) Should an affix have a typical sound symbolic meaning, it would still be an affix, not a phonestheme. Roots may also have such meanings (say, a word with the meaning "rapid movement"), and they are not considered phonesthemes because of that. Examples of phonesthemes and non-phonesthemes: glimmer, glow, glitter, etc: gl- is, presumably, a meaningful part of the root, and it occurs "regularly" in a number of words. It is a phonestheme. warmth: warm and -th are meaningful, but warm is a whole root, and -th is not a part of the root. Neither is a phonestheme. East, West (and North, South): there are phonological and semantic connections which are perceived as running in parallell between these words (the phonological similarity is likely tied to the semantic similarity), but the phonological-semantic relationship holds between the words as wholes (a relationship between two singular words does not make a "regular" pattern), and the part -st cannot be singled out as a unit on its own. -st is therefore not a phonestheme, but a meaningless phonological string. East and West are consequently not phonesthemic words. (Comment: There are quite a few examples of this kind, and, e.g., derivational relations like the one between pope and pap in papal must be excluded. In fact, even common inflections like sing-sang could be included, in line with some linguistic theories, at least, if we didn't say that a phonestheme is a part of a root. Also, affixes may bear phonological-semantic similarities to each other in the same manner as East-West.) the, that, they, them, these, etc: th-, which is a part of the root, is possibly in an intermediate position, as it is tied to a very limited set of words, and it is debatable whether it can be said to be a separate unit representing the semantic commonality of these words, or whether phonological and semantic connections run in parallell between the words as wholes (with th- being a meaningless phonological string). The meaning is not prototypical for phonesthemes. (Comment: Of course, if one believes that there's nothing to the th- at all to begin with, the problem doesn't come up.)

Last changed: August 04, 2000