Suggested Reading in Phonosemantics
by Margaret Magnus
Margo's Magical Letter Page
Sound Symbolism Literature Review
· Abrams, David
(1997), The Spell of the Sensuous, Random House, Vintage Books.
A magical and heartfelt work that can't be pinned into any classification.
Karl Friedrich von (?), "Von den Phönikern und ihren Schrift (das
Uralphabet)", ms. (now translated by me into English)
This work provides a beautiful description of the meanings of the original Phoenician and Hebrew alphabets, which corresponds very closely with what you find in the Kabbalistic literature. He correlates each letter with a section of the Gospel of St. John, suggesting that the alphabet provided the backbone from which the St. John Gospel was built.
· Anderson, Earl R. (1998), A Grammar of Iconism, Associated University
A marvellous scholarly overview of the field of linguistic iconism as a whole a wonderful introductory textbook on linguistic iconism. It is readily accessible to someone who has no background in linguistics, but it is equally useful to the professional linguist.
· Barfield, Owen (1953), History in English Words, Lindisfarne Press.
This book isn't specifically about sound-meaning, but Barfield sees very clearly the nature of language and describes it so beautifully.
· Berendt, Joachim-Ernst (1983), Nada Brahma. Die Welt ist Klang, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Hamburg.
I believe this has been translated into English. It is not oriented at phonosemantics specifically, though sections of the book are devoted to the issues of sound in language, and it is not a scholarly work. It's too German to be New Age. But the author really has his heart in the subject and offers many beautiful and original thoughts. He also demonstrates the relatedness of many different aspects of life in which sound is related to Meaning.
· Bloomfield, Leonard (1909-1910), "A Semasiological Differentiation in
Germanic Secondary Ablaut", Modern Philology 7: 245-288, 345-382,
partially reprinted in Charles F. Hockett, (ed.), A Leonard Bloomfield
Anthology, Bloomington Indiana U. Press.
I have a sympathy for old-style linguistics which is pooh-poohed in some circles as merely descriptive. I see being merely descriptive - no more and no less - as one of the great disciplines of life, a discipline that requires a great deal of understanding to pull off. Bloomfield has here diligently and lovingly collected and organized data which will be accessible and useful forever.
· Bloomfield, Maurice
(1895), "On Assimilation and Adaptation in Congeneric Classes of Words",
American Journal of Philology 16: 409-434.
And this is one of the most beautifully written scholarly works in phonosemantics. Like Wilhelm von Humboldt, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Isaac Goldberg, Maurice Bloomfield, whoever he is, felt very clearly and deeply what is really going on.
· Bolinger, Dwight
(1950), "Rime, Assonance and Morpheme Analysis", Word,
This particular work reawakened the field of phonosemantics for many linguists and forms the foundation for the work of many American researchers such as Lawler, McCune and Rhodes.
· Cohane, John Philip (1969), The Key, Crown Publishers, NY.
This book offers a bunch of really remarkable data. The author didn't know he was writing about phonosemantics at all. He had a wild idea, and he just published it, and his data mysteriously corroborates what the Runic and Kabbalistic myths have always said. It very much makes one want to speculate on the origin of language.
· Dickins, Bruce (ed.) (1915) (reprinted 1968), Runic and Other Heroic
Poems of the Teutonic Peoples, (1),
Kraus Reprint, NY.
This book contains most if not all of the original writings containing the meanings of the Runes in the various traditions.
· Ertel, Suitbert(1972), Statistische
Untersuchungen zur Lautbedeutsamkeit mit 37 Sprachen, ms, Institut für
Psychologie, der Universität Göttingen.
This is a marvellous, detailed study correlating sound and meaning in 4 semantic classes across 37 languages. It demonstrates that at least for these classes, sound and meaning are related universally. It also offers a good analysis of the relationship between reference and iconic sound-meaning.
· Firmage, Richard A.
(1993), The Alphabet Abecedarium, David Godine Publisher, Boston.
This is a magical and very well written book containing lots of engaging detail.
· Genette, Gérard (1976), Mimologiques, Paris, Seuil; (1995) Mimiologics,
University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
This book feels to me like a giant island in a sea. Somebody translated it. The University of Nebraska Press has published it and several other related works over the years. It's even available in paperback. It's a stunning history of the Cratylean tradition through the eyes of a Frenchman expressed with depth, humor and care.
· Grammont, Maurice (1901), "Onomatopées et mots expressifs",
in Tretenaire de la Societé pour l'Etude des Langues Romanes,
A classic for the poets. Grammont organizes the book into various 'ideas' - repetition, sorrow, accumulation, irony, etc.. and shows how these have been expressed over and over again with similar sounds by the great poets of the world.
· Graves, Robert
(1966), The White Goddess,
Noonday Press, NY.
This book follows the ancient myth of the goddess of birth, love, death and poetry. One leaves it quite convinced that the White Goddess is as alive and well today as she ever has been. Poetry, he shows, has only a single language, the language of sound. He discusses in quite a bit of detail the specifics of the Irish tree alphabet. One of the women he lived with for some time, Laura Riding, spent much of her life on a dictionary, which if I gather rightly from her biography, was written based on phonosemantic principles, but it is not yet available in print.
· Hollander, Lee M.(translator)
(1990), "Sayings of the High One", The
Poetic Edda, University of Texas Press, Austin.
The original saga of Odin and his quest for the runes.
· Hulse, David Allen
(1994), The Key of It All: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Sacred Languages
and Magickal Systems of the World: The Eastern Mysteries, Vol 1, Llewellyn
· Hulse, David Allen (1994), The Key of It All: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Sacred Languages and Magickal Systems of the World: The Western Mysteries, Vol 2, Llewellyn Publishers.
The most impressive collection of data on what the mystics, gnostics, hermetics, occultists have to say about the letters of the alphabet, East and West. Hundreds and hundreds of pages long. It's also written in very very solid, sane manner.
· Humboldt, Wilhelm von (1836), Über die Verschiedenheit des Menschlichen Sprachbaues
und ihren Einfluß auf die geistige Entwicklung des Menschengeschlechts,
Druckerei der Könglichen Akademie, Berlin, Reprinted Bonn: Dummler,
In §10 especially, as well as §11 and §12, von Humboldt lays out beautifully how phonosemantics works and how it ties in with the development of language. This is one of those works like Emerson's Nature and deSaussure's Cours that gets read too quickly, trivialized, and then continually reinvented. As I see it, it runs very deep. I believe that had this work been understood, the course of linguistic science would have been different. (see the Humboldt Project)
· Jakobson, Roman (1978a), Sound and Meaning, MIT Press, London.
· Jakobson, Roman (c), "Stix i zvuki rehi", in Roman Jakobson Selected Writings VIII, Mouton de Gruyter.
· Jakobson, Roman and L. R. Waugh (1979), The Sound Shape of Language, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.
Jakobson is by many acknowledged as the chief proponent of phonosemantics, though certainly many of the masters of old espoused the phonosemantic hypothesis: Jespersen, Sapir, Bloomfield,... These are some of his most basic works on the subject.
· Kakehi, Hisao, Lawrence Schourup,
Ikuhiro Tamori (1998), A Dictionary of
Iconic Expressions in Japanese, Mouton, The Hague.
This one I haven't even seen. It costs $500, but I am assured that it is a thorough study of Japanese iconics expressions. It is 1500 pages in length and took 20 years to write.
· Khlebnikov, Velemir (1987), Tvoreniq, Izdatel;stvo ^Sovetskij Pisatel;&,
Khlebnikov was very conscious of the effects of sound on poetry. He wrote a number of essays specifically outlining the meanings of the Russian letters, and all of his poetry was based on the play of speech sound. A very large percentage of the words he uses were invented by him. This book provides the most complete collection of these essays and related poetry that I have encountered. But you have to know Russian to have any fun with Khlebnikov.
· Magnus, Margaret (2000), What's in a Word? Evidence for Phonosemantics,
doctoral dissertation, University of Trondheim, Trondheim, Norway.
This is a formal account of my research. It seems to me to constitute proof that iconic phonosemantics is completely pervasive and productive in all the common English monosyllables.
· Magnus, Margaret (1999), A Dictionary of English Sound, Here.
This is the first scientifically organized commercial dictionary of phonesthemes. I believe it's the largest collection of phonesthemes that's publicly available: 250 pages of phonesthemes and 650 pages of Index for $30.
· Magnus, Margaret
(2) (1999), The Gods of the Word?.Archetypes
in the Consonants, Thomas Jefferson University Press, Kirksville, MO.
A popularized account of the phenomenon of phonosemantics.
· Marks, Lawrence E. (1975), "On Colored-Hearing Synesthesia: Cross-Modal
Translations of Sensory Dimensions", Psychological Bulletin
Among its other virtues, this article gives a detailed overview of the synesthetic literature, and discusses the relationship between synesthesia and phonosemantics, or sound symbolism.
· McCrum, Andrew
(2002), "A Cultural-Linguistic Study of English Sound Symbolic Pejorative
Lexemes Beginning in sl- and du-", Iconicity in Language 82:
This provides a very thorough discussion of the process of sound-symbolic change over time, offering unusual insight to the actual mechanism whereby sound symbolism manifests.
· McCune, Keith M. (1983), The Internal
Structure of Indonesian Roots, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan.
One of the two most detailed and diligent works in phonosemantics that I know of. The other is Kakehi Hisao's dictionary. It is written in the tradition of Bolinger, Rhodes and Lawler and works in terms of rhymes and assonance, synonymy and homonymy. It demonstrates pretty well beyond a shadow of a doubt that at least one language (Indonesian) is structured entirely on the basis of phonosemantic principles and provides considerable data concerning the relationship between phonosemantics and metaphor. In this work, McCune has taken phonosemantics out of the realm of speculation and proven for the first time that it is indeed a large scale and active force in language.
· Nodier, Charles
(1808), Dictionnaire raisonnée des onomatopées françaises,
Demonville, Paris., republished 1828 by Delangle, Paris., edited and published
1984 by Trans-Europ-Repress, Mauvezin.
Nodier's dictionary will warm your heart, make you laugh. But more than that, it has the power to bring a person into that mysterious space where the sound of the word Lives and informs us. And you'll have quite a trip acquiring a copy.
· Plato (1961), "Cratylus" (2),
in Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, (eds.), Plato, the Collected
Dialogues, Princeton University Press.
This is where the discussion in the Western world of linguistic iconism began. It's the most frequently cited and least understood work in phonosemantics. In the first part, Socrates criticizes the most common error we make with respect to the phonosemantic claim. This error is the idea that the relationship between sound and meaning is arbitrary. In the second part, he addresses the other common pitfall made by the overenthusiastic sound symbolist. This is the erroneous notion that the sound of a word can determine its referent, or that sound-meaning is essentially referential in nature. Many believe that the position Socrates takes in the second half of the Cratylus contradicts what he says in the first half. But this view is mistaken. He merely expounds upon a very necessary refinement to the theory in the second half.
· Rhodes, Richard and John Lawler (1981), "Athematic
Metaphors", Papers from the 17th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics
A basic work. The most clear account of the relationship between levels in language and phonosemantics. To me, it offers a way to reconcile deSaussure's structuralism with the phonosemantic claim.
· Robinson, James,
(ed.) (1978), "Maranes", "Gospel of Truth", The Nag
Hammadi Library, (1),
Collins Publishers, San Francisco.
More evidence that the gnostics, like all the other mystics, were heavy into phonosemantics, though I personally have been unable to fathom what the 'Maranes' is talking about.
· Ross, John Robert (Haj) (1991b), "Fog Cat Fog", in Robert Hoffman and David
Palermo (eds.), Cognition and the Symbolic Process: Applied and Ecological
Perspectives, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, 187-205.
My favorite paper on the analysis of a poem, how its sounds reflect its meaning. It is but one paper among a host of others which Haj has written. In a way, this paper is the father of this Web Page. I learned this whole ecological way of approaching language in the period when Haj lived at our house.
· Steiner, Rudolf
(1982), The Alphabet, Mercury Press, Spring Valley, NY
· Steiner, Rudolf (1995)The Genius of Language, Anthroposophic Press, Hudson, NY.
These little books, which are transcriptions of impromptu lectures made for Waldorf teachers, give a good sense for where the anthroposophical wisdom concerning the relationship between speech sounds and meaning hearkens from. This understanding is perhaps most strikingly demonstrated in eurhythmy. I find the sense for language represented here surprisingly deep, the number of correct observations made on the fly astounding.
translated by F. Max Müller, Dover Publications, NY.
I bet it's fair to say that this contains the oldest references to the relationship between speech sounds and meaning. Max Müller himself was adamantly anti-phonosemantic and this does unfortunately taint the translation. He feels obliged to make quips about critical passages. I think it was he who called phonosemantics the 'bow-wow' theory of language. If I had to buy the book over again, I might try the translation written with the help of Joseph Campbell.
· Wescott, Roger W.
(1980), Sound and Sense. Linguistic Essays on Phonosemic Subjects,
Jupiter Press, Lake Bluff.
This is a collection of many of Wescott's papers on phonosemantics. Wescott is probably the most widely published researcher in the field. He has a unique and non-trivial perspective and has never been afraid to say what he thinks, to include a wide range of thoughts and disciplines into his writings. As with Malkiel, I have not included in this bibliography most of the original citations for the articles contained in this book.
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