LINGUIST List 12.2868

Thu Nov 15 2001

Qs: Paradigmatically Echoic Words

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>

We'd like to remind readers that the responses to queries are usually best posted to the individual asking the question. That individual is then strongly encouraged to post a summary to the list. This policy was instituted to help control the huge volume of mail on LINGUIST; so we would appreciate your cooperating with it whenever it seems appropriate. In addition to posting a summary, we'd like to remind people that it is usually a good idea to personally thank those individuals who have taken the trouble to respond to the query.


  1. Helge Gundersen, Paradigmatically echoic words

Message 1: Paradigmatically echoic words

Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2001 19:34:04 +0100
From: Helge Gundersen <>
Subject: Paradigmatically echoic words

This query from the field of lexicology is admittedly quite long, but 
the post could be of interest to some people in its own right. In 
short, what I'm asking for is literature about and examples of words 
which are felt to be connected as wholes through parallel phonology 
and semantics, but which are not semantically close-tied kinship 
terms, adjacent numerals, points of the compass, and so on.

I will try to explain what I mean:

Pairs, or small groups, of words with strong semantic relations 
between them can be phonologically similar (with respect to both 
identical and similar features), such as *mother* and *father*, 
*north* and *south*, and *thick* and *thin*. The speakers presumably 
perceive the words as similar in phonology and semantics, while I 
think all linguists will agree on the stance that the words do not 
display any morphemes; we have a singular relation between words, not 
a so-called rule (grammatical pattern, constructional schema) 
applying to a number of words. Phonological and semantic connections 
run in parallel, and the words are related as wholes, not just via 
shared portions. The phenomenon is thus, in my opinion (Gundersen 
2001), located between lexical semantics (i.e., the study of 
polysemes) and what is ordinarily thought of as morphology.

Some candidates (depending on the language in question) are kinship 
terms, numerals, the names of the months and the days of the week, 
basic colour terms, pronouns, auxiliary verbs, points of the compass 
and words expressing basic antonymies like "up--down", "left--right", 
"heavy--light" and "male--female".

Such words can become (more) similar, a development which have been 
treated in studies of analogical change: *Gravis* became *grevis* in 
Late Latin on account on influence from *levis*. The phenonomen was 
probably more widely known, in a diachronic context, at the time when 
analogical change of words was a central topic in linguistic theory, 
before grammatical regularities became the dominant topic.

Now, this phenomenon seems to be mentioned in handbooks and elsewhere 
usually when it comes to what Stern (1931) termed "correlative 
groups", that is pairs or small groups of words whose lexical meaning 
makes them felt to belong together, such as those types of words 
mentioned above. Examples of treatments in handbooks are Wundt (1911: 
448-450), Stern (1931: 203) and Bynon (1977: 42). There is certainly 
much literature I haven't looked at, but the only place where I can 
remember to have seen a discussion of OTHER types of words is, 
briefly, Sandfeld (1923: 20-21); for example, Old French *moyeul* 
"yolk" (now *moyeu*) could become *moyeuf* under influence of *oeuf* 
"egg". Also words "coincidentally" belonging to the same conceptual 
domain, then, not having the particularly strong connections 
characteristic of the correlative groups, can be drawn closer to each 

I've noticed a number of examples in Norwegian, and there must be 
many in other languages as well. English *credit* and *debit* (as 
well as the slightly more dissimilar *kredit* and *debet* in 
Norwegian) certainly qualifies as a correlative group, but in 
Norwegian there's also a phonological difference between *kredit* 
/kre:dit/ (the opposite of "debit") and *kreditt* /kredit/ (as in 
"I've got unlimited credit"), and this pair is more awkward as a 
correlative group. A clearer case, perhaps (I continue with Norwegian 
throughout), is that people always get surprised when I tell them 
that *kreditt* is etymologically unrelated to *krita* /kri:ta/ in the 
popular expression *paa krita* "on credit". Their surprise reveals 
the psychological validity of the assumption that these words are 
connected in the manner outlined above. *Al* "breeding, animal 
husbandry" and *avl* "culture, growing" is another example: the 
semantic similarity is accompanied by a phonological ditto, in this 
case to the point of *avl* having come up as a common variety of *al* 
(not as an instance of a general phonological development), so that a 
polyseme *avl* has resulted. *Spidd* "spit", as in "chicken cooked on 
a spit," might be seen as related to *spyd* "spear" (as certainly in 
German, where the two equivalent, similar words have merged into a 
polyseme, although Seebold [1983] writes that there are phonological 
reasons for this merger). I believe that *ridder* "knight" is 
commonly associated with *rytter* "rider". Sometimes such words are 
etymologically related, but quite often not, it seems; this fact has 
no bearing on the synchronic analysis.

My question is if anyone has any references to places where 
paradigmatically echoic words of this "non-systematic" kind are 
treated -- that is, words with weaker, more "coincidental" semantic 
links than kinship terms and so on, but which still can be believed 
to be perceived as submorphemically related as wholes. Also, people 
are invited to come up with more examples from English and other 
languages. I'm interested both in cases where there has been an 
analogical change of the form (the words have become more similar, 
such as in the case of *gravis* > *grevis*) and in cases where this 
is not known to have happened.

Incidentally, note that the phenomenon at hand is not identical to 
sound symbolism. It does seem to fade into phonaesthesia-like 
occurrences like the *wh-* in *where*, *when*, *who* and other 
interrogatives (where a number of words share a portion), but in 
those cases I suppose we have to do with a more or less correlative 
group anyway.

Thank you,
Helge Gundersen
Oslo, Norway

Bynon, Theodora 1977: *Historical Linguistics.* (Cambridge Textbooks 
in Linguistics.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gundersen, Helge 2001: Building blocks or network relations: problems 
of morphological segmentation. In H. G. Simonsen and R. T. Endresen 
(eds): *A Cognitive Approach to the Verb.* Berlin: de Gruyter, 95-127.

Sandfeld, Kr. 1923: *Sprogvidenskaben.* 2nd ed. Copenhagen: 
Gyldendal. (This work was also translated into German.)

Seebold, Elmar 1983: Laut- und bedeutungsgleiche W�rter. In W. Haas 
and A. N�f (eds): *Wortschatzprobleme im Alemannischen.* Freiburg: 
Universit�tsverlag Freiburg Scweiz, 131-152.

Stern, Gustaf 1931: *Meaning and Change of Meaning.* Repr. 
Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1965.

Wundt, Wilhelm 1911: *V�lkerpsychologie*, vol. I: *Die Sprache, 
Erster Teil*, 3rd ed. (1st ed. 1900). Leipzig: Engelmann.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue