LINGUIST List 6.1115

Thu Aug 17 1995

Sum: Vowels and sound symbolism

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Message 1: summary: vowels and sound symbolism

Date: Thu, 17 Aug 1995 14:53:42 summary: vowels and sound symbolism
From: <wclivax.ox.ac.uk>
Subject: summary: vowels and sound symbolism

Summary: Vowels and Sound Symbolism

Two weeks ago I circulated a message on the list asking for information on
languages with sound-symbolic vowel hierarchies. What prompted this message
was a description I came across of the Longzhou dialect of the Zhuang language
spoken in Guangxi province in southwestern China*. The language had a vowel
hierarchy in following order

 i < e < a < o < u/w (unrounded "u")

which is manifest in the verbs, adjectives and measures of the language: the
higher up on the hierarchy the vowel, the greater the magnitude or the
intensity of the word. For example,

(1) measures
1. ni:p7 tsi3 (a small stack of paper)
 ne:p7 tsi3 (a big stack of paper)
2. je:m1 kw1 (a tiny pinch of salt)
 ja:m1 kw1 (a big handful of salt)
3. ki:N5 mai4 (a tiny branch)
 kw:N5 mai4 (a big branch)

(2) verbs
1. di:u1 (to pry using a small tool)
 da:u1 (to pry using a large tool)
2. je:t7 (a small object bouncing)
 ja:t7 (a large object bouncing)
3. ve:t7 (to dig using a small tool)
 va:t7 (to dig using a large tool)

(3) adjectives
1. ?e:u3 (to bend or break)
 ?e:u3 bje:p8 bje:p8 (to break silently)
 ?e:u3 bja:p8 bja:p8 (to break, but slightly louder than the first)
 ?e:u3 bjo:p8 bjo:p8 (to break loudly)
 ?e:u3 bju:p8 bju:p8 (to break very loudly)
2. lai1 (to flow)
 lai1 se2 se2 (to flow softly)
 lai1 sa2 sa2 (to flow, but slightly louder than the first)
 lai1 so2 so2 (to flow loudly)
 lai1 su2 su2 (to flow very loudly)
3. hau3 (the weather being warm)
 hau3 je:m5 (the weather being slightly warm)
 hau3 jo:m5 (the weather being very warm)
 hau3 ju:m5 (the weather being extremely warm)


I asked if there were other languages that had similar mechanisms, and here
are the replies. My thanks to Jan Lindstrom, Stephen P. Spackman, Hiroshi
Hanara, Bruce A. Connell, Anne Gilman, Dirk Elzinga, and Mark Huber.

* Xie, Zhiming. 1983. "Longzhou Zhuangyu de Yuanyin Jiaoti" (Vowel
alternations in the Zhuang language of Longzhou). YUYAN YANJIU 5:212-218.

...............................................................................


 The correspondence to your system is by no means discrete, but there are
similar vowel hierarchies or ordering in Japanese onomatopoeic words that
describe natural sound, repetition and number, magnitude, and perceived sizes.
 Generally one can think of a continuum of the sort below, having general
attributes as indicated:

/i/ /e/ /a/ /o/ /u/
<----------------------------------------------------------->
small, sharp, light large, blunt, heavy, intense

(/u/ is phonetically an unrounded high mid/back vowel).

 I recall a discussion on sound symbolism/onomatopoeia in Japanese in
_Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar_ (Japan Times, Tokyo, 1987?) by Makino,
Seiichi and Tsutsui, Michio. The book was intended for learners of Japanese
but the discussion on onomatopoeia toward the end of the book may still be
useful.

Hiroshi Nara
Associate Professor
Japanese Language
EALL, University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260 USA
...............................................................................
 .


 Wasco Chinookan evidently has a diminuitive morpheme with several
degrees of intensity, varying according to consonant qualities (there may
be two axes, actually; at least one goes: ejective-voiced-unvoiced-
labialized or something -- I don't have the paper in front of me, pardon
factual errors!). This phenomenon also involves vowel alternation. The paper
is by Michael Silverstein and it came out in:

 TITLE: Sound symbolism / edited by Leanne Hinton, Johanna Nichols,
 and John J. Ohala.
 PUBLISHED: Cambridge (England) ; New York : Cambridge University
 Press, 1994.
 DESCRIPTION: x, 373 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
 NOTES: Includes bibliographical references and index.
 SUBJECTS: Sound symbolism
 OTHER AUTHORS: Hinton, Leanne
 Nichols, Johanna
 Ohala, John J.
 ISBN: 0521452198
 OCLC NUMBER: 29027865

 Thought I would toss the idea in the hopper...

 Anne Gilman
 (grad student, UT Austin)
...............................................................................


 I don't know any
parallel examples, but in Ibibio you can lengthen the vowel to
show increasing duration or repetition of an action. (It's actually a bit
more complicated than that.)
 Meanwhile I suggest you check a paper by
Ohala, 'The ethiological use of pitch' (I think), which appeared in
Phonetica in the early '80s (again, I think). He has done other work on
sound symbolism, including a recent book (Hinton, Nichols, Ohala, eds)
under that name. Actually there are two by Ohala, both in Phonetica,
one in 1983, one in 1984

 . . .

In Yoruba, rugudu (HHH) 'small and spherical (as buttocks)' vs rogodo (HHH)
'large and round (as yams)'.

If I understood your posting this fits in your (i.e. the Longzhou)
hierarchy. I came across it in Child'spaper in the Sound Symbolism book,
the original source is Courtenay (1976). NB both these words are
ideophones in Yoruba and there is no suggestion that these two words
reflect a productive process, even among ideophones (though I suspect no
one has seriously checked out the possibility).

Dr. Bruce A. Connell
Oxford University
...............................................................................


 Shoshoni, a Uto-Aztecan language spoken in
the Great Basin of North America has something like this with
demonstratives. There are two sets of prefixes which can be affixed to
demonstrative stems; the first set consists of an [s] followed by a
vowel and has definite readings, while the second set consists of a bare
vowel and has indefinite readings. These are:

 I II gloss example
 si- i- near sitn 'this'
 se- e- not quite so near setn 'this'
 sa- a- far, but in sight satn 'that'
 su- u- not in sight, far sutn 'that'

In addition, there is another prefix which makes no distinction as to
proximity, ma-. The forgoing information is taken from a grammatical
sketch of Shoshoni by the late Wick Miller, as well as my own field
experience with the language.

Dirk Elzinga
University of Arizona
elzingaaruba.ccit.arizona.edu
...............................................................................


You might want to look at my book for the vector space of vowels.
The ordering above is almost a perfect match for a Hilbert
curve that follows the vowels at the corners of the ordinal
vowel cube:

Hubey, H.M. (1994) Mathematical and Computational Linguistics,
Mir Domu Tvoemu, Moscow, Russia, ISBN 5-87553-001-4

As in many other scientific fields, particular mathematical fields are used
or have been shown via experience to be useful in linguistics and most books
on linguistics don't stray too far from these methods; i.e. the formal
language theory, graph theoretic,or logic. This book covers the area
starting from the most basic phonetics/phonemics to morphology, syntax and
historical linguistics. Almost everything in the book is original and uses
mathematics to model the phenomena. What is not original is covered in
the appendices. Even some original ideas can be found in the appendices.
It's comprehensive and introduces mathematical methods into linguistics
in a very strong, natural and non-trivial way including; differential
equations, stochastic differential equations, catastrophe theory, fuzzy
mathematics, entropy, various metric spaces, vector spaces for phonemes,
orthogonal basis for speech sounds, and a natural orthogonal space for
sonority, vowels, and even consonants, time-domain and frequency-domain
 relationships, dimensional analysis, partial differential equations and
permutation matrices et cetera in addition to the usual binary arithmetic,
and monoids, groups, rings, Karnaugh maps, sets, et cetera.

YOu can find a free copy of the book on my home page at

 http://www.smns.montclair.edu/~hubey

or directly try ftp'ing to

 amiga.montclair.edu

The http is a much better way you can get a copy of the
table of contents first.

regards, mark
..............................................................................
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