The power of sounds - or onomatopaeic aspects of words?

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ThomasK

Senior Member
Belgium, Dutch
In Dutch we have drukken (press, ...), drijven (drive, dringen (push, ...), and dwingen (to force). All kinds of force-ful verbs beginning with (by ?) dr-. And we have trekken (pull), there is the French trainer (to drag): tr- as well... It can be useful as a mnemo[tech]nic[al] trick for language students, but may we assume that - for example - these words have been withheld because of their sound structure? I do not mean to suggest that they were "created" based on this powerful combination as there are other dr-/tr-words where power is not in play... ;-) --- By the way, I just bumped into our word "kracht" (German Kraft, English power/ force), with a powerful kr-...

The question for me is only: how do you describe this phenomenon? Just as a funny/intriguing coincidence, or is there more to it? What then?
 
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  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    It's called sound symbolism. Onomatopoeia is different, it's the attempted representation of actual sounds: dogs go woof, cocks go cock-a-doodle-do, you fall into the water with splash. Sound symbolism is common in English; I haven't read anything about it in other languages. A writer could invent a sound effect like sploop or scrinch or gloink and it would be partly understood by its resemblance to existing words. Initial sl- is often used for 'thin' movement like slide and slip and slink, but change the ending to -op and it becomes more 'wet': slop joins plop and drop. There is more of a 'heavy' fall into a final position in slump, which is like hump, bump, lump, dump. Initial gl- is often about faint light: glow, gleam, glitter, glisten. We use cr- for breaking noises: crunch, crack, creak, and this can combine with the end position in crumple.

    Maybe not all of these are convincing: there are family resemblances, however. Creak is not breaking, but still it's almost threatening to break; it also shades off into another set, the slow movements of creep and crawl.
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Perfect! Yes, that is a word I have heard before, but... Yes, yes, yes!

    But you're quite right: this seems to work for Germanic languages maybe, but French has casser, nothing like break. There is fracture, etc., but fairly formal, for nouns rather, I think, whereas I would not associate forceful br- with fire, as in with brûler (burn), although…
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    But you're quite right: this seems to work for Germanic languages maybe, but French has casser, nothing like break.
    Because, obviously, it isn't directly tied to certain lexemes. Sound symbolism by itself seems just to slowly influence the vocabulary through the increased probability of certain lexemes to survive and spread. It should be noted, however, that pure onomatopoeia also is a pretty important factor in language development. Many PIE and early IE words (with numerous descendants among the living languages) look onomatopoeic in origin.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    @Awwal12: if that is a hypothesis, it is quite plausible indeed. (I wondered an hour ago about bl-words. The IE base is said to refer to swelling, and lots of our animal-o-Phone verbs have bl (blaffen, blaten, …), which implies some force, but not an agressive one…).

    Thanks for the concept of 'lexemes'. I knew about 'phonemes", but 'lexemes'.... Not really. What would be the semantic equivalent (similar underlying meaning)? A concept simply, I guess, and I suppose that is not a technical linguistic term. Oh, if it were…

    @bearded: Awwal or someone else will have a better answer, I guess, but I suppose an alliteration makes use of - or exploits - sound symbolism… On the other hand it was also a mnemo(tech)nic(al) trick, I think, for the "declamator". Looking forward to other answers, probably better...
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Several European languages have a tendency to associate sibilants like /ʃ/ (sh) to verbs related to sounds done with lips and tongue, or sounds alike, such as windy ones.

    In Catalan, to mention a few:
    (x = ɕ , tx =t͡ɕ , j = ʑ)
    (Notice how the translations to English also have a sibilant)

    xarbotejar, xipollejar, xopinejar, esquitxar = squash, sprinkle, slosh​
    xiular = whistle​
    xiuxiuejar = whisper​
    xisclar = shriek, scream, screech​
    xuclar = suck​
    xarrupar = slurp​
    xumar = drink straight from the bottle​
    xuixar = (the wind) whisper near the chimney​
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    We have something similar, indeed, but I think we more often have a combination of a sibilant + liquida, or sibilant + semivowel perhaps, as in slurpen, zwelgen (swallkow), slikken (id.)... We do have suizen resembling xuixar, but...
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I think the 'r' in Germanic languages works quite differently: it needs a preceding plosive to work (br..., burst, …)… In fact there is a tendency in the Netherlands to vocalize the 'r' completely… Just guessing, but interesting and funny observation. I suppose it does not work for Italian; the Spanish 'r' is, errr, stronger/…, I think.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    In Dutch we have drukken (press, ...), drijven (drive, dringen (push, ...), and dwingen (to force). All kinds of force-ful verbs beginning with (by ?) dr-.
    That reminded me of something I had read some time ago about the Greek letter Γ (Gamma).
    I don't remember what the exact statement was, but it was about that some words that begin or contain the letter Γ denote some kind of "angle":
    γωνία [γonía] (=angle);
    γόνατο [γónato] (=knee);
    γάντζος [γándzos] (=hook);
    άγκιστρο [áŋɟistro] (= hook);
    αγκώνας [aŋgónas] (=elbow);
    αγκύλη [aŋɟíli] (=angle bracket);
    άγκυρα [áŋɟira](=anchor).
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    That reminds me of Germanic alliteration ('Stabreim' in German):
    Alliteration is a figure of speech. An example from Oedipus Rex by Sophocles:
    «τυφλὸς τά τ᾽ ὦτα τόν τε νοῦν τά τ᾽ ὄμματ᾽ εἶ» where it is an alliteration of τ. (Translation: you are blind in your ears, your mind and your eyes).
    I guess it exists in Italian as well.
     

    Dajbog

    Banned
    Serbian
    In Dutch we have drukken (press, ...), drijven (drive, dringen (push, ...), and dwingen (to force). All kinds of force-ful verbs beginning with (by ?) dr-. And we have trekken (pull), there is the French trainer (to drag): tr- as well... It can be useful as a mnemo[tech]nic[al] trick for language students, but may we assume that - for example - these words have been withheld because of their sound structure? I do not mean to suggest that they were "created" based on this powerful combination as there are other dr-/tr-words where power is not in play... ;-) --- By the way, I just bumped into our word "kracht" (German Kraft, English power/ force), with a powerful kr-...

    The question for me is only: how do you describe this phenomenon? Just as a funny/intriguing coincidence, or is there more to it? What then?
    In Serbian we have:
    drukati - to pump
    drkati - jerk off
    drmati - shake, jig
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I have missed some of your contributions, I am sorry. But:
    @Perseas: very interesting information regarding the gamma! As for alliteration:: thanks for the additional information, but I was playing safe by referring to Germanic assimilation as I was not aware of the use of alliteration in other languages... I suppose the t alliteration makes it extremely strong.
    @bearded : do you associate anything with m? I think of softness, smoothness, but that does not rhyme with shame, I guess. Or?
    @Dajbog: interesting parallel, thanks for informing me!
    @jmx : I had a look at the page, but are you referring to final letters in general or to the final 'r', as in the last contribution? (I can decipher Spanish, but ....)
     
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    jmx

    Senior Member
    Spain / Spanish
    The most relevant part of Duvija's post is this:
    ... en 'sound symbolism' se ve que la rr en castellano está en palabras como 'derrotar, romper, reventar, derruir, arrollar, repulsión, guerra, garrote, etc. - hay muchas.
    That is, words meaning to defeat, break, burst, tear down, run over, repulsion, war, club/cudgel, and many more in that style, include the 'strong' multivibrant trill [r].
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    The most relevant part of Duvija's post is this:That is, words meaning to defeat, break, burst, tear down, run over, repulsion, war, club/cudgel, and many more in that style, include the 'strong' multivibrant trill [r].
    I had guessed that it had to do withat letter, but was not sure. But very interesting indeed!
     
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