Sound Symbolism in the Languages of AustraliaReport as inadecuate

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The notion that linguistic forms and meanings are related only by convention and not by any direct relationship between sounds and semantic concepts is a foundational principle of modern linguistics. Though the principle generally holds across the lexicon, systematic exceptions have been identified. These -sound symbolic- forms have been identified in lexical items and linguistic processes in many individual languages. This paper examines sound symbolism in the languages of Australia. We conduct a statistical investigation of the evidence for several common patterns of sound symbolism, using data from a sample of 120 languages. The patterns examined here include the association of meanings denoting -smallness- or -nearness- with front vowels or palatal consonants, and the association of meanings denoting -largeness- or -distance- with back vowels or velar consonants. Our results provide evidence for the expected associations of vowels and consonants with meanings of -smallness- and -proximity- in Australian languages. However, the patterns uncovered in this region are more complicated than predicted. Several sound-meaning relationships are only significant for segments in prominent positions in the word, and the prevailing mapping between vowel quality and magnitude meaning cannot be characterized by a simple link between gradients of magnitude and vowel F2, contrary to the claims of previous studies.

Author: Hannah Haynie, Claire Bowern , Hannah LaPalombara



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