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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

Chapter Four - Onomatopoeia and Sound Symbolism


“Onomatopoeia” is one of the technical terms we most easily remember, perhaps because it is such an odd word, oddly spelled, and which could be a trochaic trimeter line by itself, but more probably because its meaning, as it is usually defined and illustrated, is easy to grasp and fun to think about. “Splash, squeak, chirp, buzz, boom, zap, crinkle, hiss, whisper, pop, hum, murmur” – these words, and many more, which imitate real sounds, are said to be “onomatopoeic” (or sometimes “onomatopoetic”). The definitions found in the handbooks start with words like these as instances of onomatopoeia in the strict sense, as “a word, or a combination of words, whose sound seems to resemble closely the sound it denotes,”1 and then usually go on to describe an extended or more subtle sense, as a characteristic of words that suggest by their sound-shape any feature of what they mean, not just sound: it could be size, form, speed, solidity, duration, or almost anything else. The broader sense overlaps with “sound symbolism,” the most general term for the natural, or apparently natural, connection between sounds and their meanings or referents; it is sometimes called “sound iconicity.”