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What Do We Got Here?

Margo's Magical Letter Page


* Theoretical Background - What is this sound meaning actually? How does word semantics work? And what is the nature of language?
* Experiment - There is a straightforward way to convince yourself that there is a significant correlation between the sound and meaning of words. All you need is paper, pencil (alternatively a word processor) and a collegiate sized dictionary... I think you'll be amazed. You'll wonder why they aren't teaching this in schools.
* Myth and Culture - the beginnings of a series of thoughts on what language is all about on the deepest levels.
* So What Does 'The Sign Is Arbitrary' Actually Mean? - Does it mean that you can't tell from one day to the next what 'cat' will refer to? Does it mean that the structure of a word in no way influences it form? What does it mean?

Linguistic Iconism Association

* Linguistic Iconism Association
* Iconicity in Language journal


* My Dissertation - What's in a Word: Studies in Phonosemantics. The notion that there is a regular correlation between the form of a word and its meaning is, of course, controversial. In this dissertation my intention has been to shed light on that controversy by conducting a variety of tests -- for the most part on a fairly large scale -- which quantify the extent of the correspondence between sound and meaning in words. I found in the course of this project that phonosemantic correlations were much more pervasive than I initially anticipated and certainly greater than is generally supposed in the linguistics literature. Furthermore, I cannot but see that these tests show that quite general natural laws are productively operative in language which account for most of the correlations observed. If further research indeed corroborates my findings, then it follows that the meaning of every word in every language is in part (only in part!) inherent in its form. The sign is therefore not wholly arbitrary, and it is not possible to devise an abstract representation of language which is entirely unrelated to the form of language itself.

Offer your Opinions

* Your Linguistic Intuitions? - invent definitions for nonsense words, make up words for pictures, your chance to be creative. There are no right answers here.
* Poll for the More Experienced - if you've thought about sound symbolism/phonosemantics a little, tell us what you believe to be true. How pervasive is it? Where does it appear in language?

Examples of Phonosemantic Experiments

* A Dictionary of English Sound - The longest list of phonesthemes available anywhere and the first dictionary of phonesthemes ever. Over 900 pages of dictionary. pdf format. For use by writers, poets, linguists, psychologists, psychiatrists, English teachers, English learners, anthropologists Or if you're interested in NLP, mythology, symbology, linguistics, English language acquisition. Use it to learn what connotations your personal name or your brand name evoke... or what the subtle distinctions are between English words.

* Phonosemantic Dictionary - A sample of the Dictionary of English Sound in html format - a classification of all the common English monosyllabic and most monomorphemic words into sound-meaning classes. Data at this site is almost exclusively based on this dictionary.
* Invented Definitions - This is a form that gives readers like you a chance to invent definitions for nonsense words. I then compare and classify the definitions... they don't vary as widely as you might expect! If you're only interested in the results, go here.
* Bias in the Labials - Words containing labial consonant (those pronounced at the lips, like p, f, and m) display something I think of as a bias in their meaning, It can manifest in many different ways. Geomoetrically it is a lump, wave or ripple. It can also be a pressure differential, resulting in blowing and flowing. It can show up as copies, models, fakes. It manifests as subordination and specialness. Take a look at all the English monosyllables in these and other classes. Almost all of them contain a labial!
* Strung out /str/, a Cross-Linguistic Comparison - Words containing /s/, /t/, and /r/ in that order are stretchy, stressed out and strange not only in English, but in Albanian, Hindi, Bulgarian, Indonesian, Catalan, Danish,...
* Amen - On this page all common words containing /m/ followed by /n/ are classified, including those which have prefixes and suffixes. Still, the words all fall into a fairly clear and unique classification scheme.
* Russian and English Place Words - Just as there are two types of meaning ­ inherent and reference ­ so there are two ways one can classify words. I take all the words referring to a place beginning with /b/ and classify them both by inherent meaning, and by referential meaning. The referential classification (political, geographical, buildings, etc.) is equally applicable to all sounds. But the inherent classification that works well for /b/ (barriers, boundaries, etc.) does not work at all well for other sounds. And curiously, even Russian place names beginning with /b/ fit both classification schemes designed for English /b/. But Russian place words beginning with other consonants only fit well into the referentially based classification!
* Comparison of Entire Classification Schemes - Having designed sound-meaning classes for words beginning with two different sounds, you can compare entire schemes. For example, 23% of words beginning with /b/ refer to loud, effusive talk. In /d/ the are only 4 talking words, and they are all kind of drivelling and droning.
* Syllables - When you make a word two syllables instead of one, it makes it multiply, jiggle, and jabber. I classify all the two syllable words in English that end on -le and -er.
* Inversions - When you invert the sounds in words, the meaning inverts with it. Loops become planes and poles. Beef becomes flab. A debt becomes a trade. In English you gotta watch out which order you put things in!
* Take ­ an In-Depth Study of a Single Word - If you go through all the senses of the word 'take' offered in some dictionary, you can show how each sense is compatible with the tendency of /t/ followed by the capture of /k/. However, synonyms provided in the dictionary for the various senses of 'take' do not fit the semantics of /t/-/k/! (unless, of course they contain a /t/ and a /k/)
* Outrageous /r/ - I use all the (monosyllabic) words containing /r/ in second position to demonstrate a particularly effective way of getting at the meanings of the phonetic features.
* Comparison of Two Sounds, the Effect of Word Position on Meaning - Some aspects of sound meaning don't depend on position and others do. Take a look at several classes (drive/sail, drip/leak, razz/blame, etc.) which feature /r/ and /l/ in several positions to see how position affects meaning.
B vs. Random Words - I compare words picked at random with words starting with /b/ and show that they pattern differently.
* B vs. L - I create a classification scheme that works well for words starting with /b/ and show that words starting with /l/ don't fit in.
* The Phonosemantics of English and Norwegian /S/ - The semantics of /S/ in Norwegian and English are compare in detail.

Sound Meaning in Classes Based on Reference

* People, People, People! - Did you know that the largest class of root words referring to people are insults? Fully 36%? Did you know that 23% of words for people refer to men, but only 13% to women and 4% to children? Did you know that the largest class of words for men refers to male professions? Did you know that the largest class of words for women refer to women as sex objects? Don't believe me? Check for yourself!
* Fire - Some sounds burn and some sounds don't. Others just cause friction.
* Animals - Did you ever wonder why the Chinese zodiac views pigs as noble? How we think of the animals depends on how we pronounce them!
* Other Semantic Classes ­ Downwardness, Force and Roundness - Yet three other ways to look at referentially based semantic classes... that is, classes that are (more or less) blind to sound.

Just for Fun

* Dr. Suess - A note on this master of meaning!
* Sound Silliness - To boo or noot to boo...
* Archetypes - The Serpent in /s/, the Grail in /g/. Sound meanings are archetypal in nature!!!
* The Hidden Meaning in Your Name - Ever wonder why you prefer some of your nicknames over others? The sounds in your name have a meaning.

Further Research

* Bibliography - contains the names of wise and insightful souls (i.e., those who agree with me), like Plato, the Upanishads, Alexander von Humboldt, Rudolf Steiner, Roman Jakobson, Edward Sapir, Victor Hugo, James Joyce, Mary Oliver (Pulitzer Prize in poetry), Henry David Thoreau, Saint Augustine, Leibniz, Lewis Carroll.
* Annotated Bibliography - in case the full bibliography is too long and tedious for your needs, you can look at this, which lists a number of the books and articles in this field, both scholarly and mysterious, which I especially recommend. This includes a book by me, The Gods of the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants.
* Sound Symbolism Literature Review - a draft of a chapter of my forthcoming dissertation.
* Quotations - some of my favorite quotations by other word-enthusiasts
* Linguistic Methodology - my view on how to go about linguistic science and the considerations that led me there. Highly technical, but (hopefully) understandable for the non-linguist. It was through this path that I learned much of what I know about the nature of truth.

What the Letters Actually Mean

* English Consonants - A quick and dirty and highly subjective account of the meanings of the English consonants.















* Phonetic Features. - A quick and dirty account of the meanings of the phonetic features
* Mystical Letter Meanings - Similar tables of letter meanings have been created by many of the mystical traditions over time. Here are a few for which I have found definitive sources.

* Archetypes - The Serpent in /s/, the Grail in /g/. Sound meanings are archetypal in nature!!!

Other Language Links

* Linguistic Methodology - on the current state of the field, and scientific method
* How to Lose Your Accent - Are you an immigrant or a spy? Improving your accent is not just magic reserved for geniuses and gods... anybody can do it if they know how and if they put their mind to it...
* Linguistic Universals - The assigned lecture I had to give for my PhD
* Circle Noetic Services - Web site for the natural language software company I co-founded and worked in for 10 years


* Terrorism - my contribution to the discussion
* The Demography of Patriotism - how flags are distributed in the aftermath of Sep. 11
* European Anti-Americanism - Why it concerns me, what it feels like to me
* Concerning Dissent - On political ambivalence

Programming Techniques

* Parser - how to write a very useful linguisticsally based parser without reading a book.
* Word List Corruption - and some notes on when to use statistics and when linguistics
* Applescript - my notes on how to save a week learning it
* VBA for Access - my notes on how to save time learning it


* Pinecliffe - a standing stone in Colorado?
* Ancient Crossings - my own contribution to archeology. Evidence that somebody crossed the Atlantic in the 4th millennium BC?

About Me

* Meditations
* Motivation
* Ruminations by Request
* Mind and Matter
* Poetry
* Family Photos
* Some Stories
* Resumé

Andrew Rothovius
articles about
Battle of the Boyne, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Freya Stark, Ellis Peters,
William Wallace, Cecilia Beaux, Agnes Lewis/ Margaret Gibson/ Ben Sira,
Robert Burns/ Ben Franklin, Montenegro, Halloween, Mary Russell Mitford,
Mount Etna, Arbor Day

* Constantin Simun - sculpture

* Happy Medium - A book about the life, philosophies and thoughts of my clairvoyant friend, Janice Tarver.

* Magnus Lecture Series - established as a memorial to my Dad.

My favorite Web sites

Margo's Magical Letter Page