Phonosemantic and Phonotactics


Phonosemantics is a relatively new branch of phonetics that has arisen quite recently and is now in great flourish. Phonosemantics studies how phonetic features (sounds and intonation) affect the realization of meaning in different contexts and communication circumstances.

The meaning of every word in every language is in part inherent in its form. Individual phonemes and phonetic features are meaningbearing. They each have a unique semantics. Every word which contains a given phoneme bears an element of meaning which is absent in words not containing this phoneme. In addition, all phonemes which have a common phonetic feature also have a common element of meaning.

On the most fundamental level, a word is a reflection of its articulation. The presence of a given phoneme in a word has a very specific semantic effect.

For example, «slide» is a smooth motion. The smoothness and slipperiness so common in [sl] shows up in the referent for «slide».

Certain sounds cause changes in the meaning of a word and phrase. Hereby a general impression from the text is formed on the basis of extralinguistic factors and its outer form (phonemic structure). It can also be influenced by key words which make a meaningful frame of the text. Thus, such words may be accurately chosen and introduced in the text deliberately to enlarge the number of phonemes which possess a certain (desired) phonetic meaning. In phonosemantic experiments such words are specially constructed from phonemes with definite phonetic meaning. Any text can be investigated from the point of view of its phonetic filling.

The branch of phonology whose aim is to discover the principles that govern the way sounds are organized to form linguistic units of higher levels is called phonotactics .

It has been observed that languages do not allow phonemes to appear in any order. A native speaker of English can figure out that the sequence of phonemes [s t r e Å‹ θ s] makes an English word strengths and that the sequence of phonemes [z b f] could not possibly be an English word (Roach 2000). Knowledge of such facts is important in phonotactics.

Phonotactic studies of English come up with the findings that certain sequences tend to be associated with particular feelings or human characteristics. For example, the words bump and lump associate with large blunt shapes. A number of words ending in plosive and syllabic [l] have something to do with a clumsy, awkward or difficult action: fiddle , struggle , muddle .