Sound Symbolism and Grammar in Czech: A Cognitive Approach

Masako Fidler, Brown University

Recent literature has moved research of sound symbolic expressions significantly forward. Typologies of sound symbolic terms have been proposed for various languages (e.g. Hilton et al 1994, Nuckolls 1996, and Hamano 1998). The study of sound symbolism has particularly advanced among languages where sound symbolic expressions are characterized by a specific morphological pattern (Hamano 1994:155, Hamano 1998). Simultaneously, relationship between a linguistic form and meaning has been implicitly discussed in cognitive linguistics: for example, Langacker (2003) shows varying degrees to which a linguistic form and meaning can be decomposed; this model may be extended to phonological segments to claim that non-arbitrary relationship between sound and meaning may be more salient in some parts of the language than others.

This presentation constitutes part of my attempt towards a systematic examination of Czech sound symbolism, using what I will call Discourse-Aspectuality Markers (DAM¹s). DAM¹s are possible segmental and prosodic enhancements to any basic sound symbolic expression (modification to the syllable coda, repetition, lengthening, and semi-suffixation). Each DAM renders a consistent set of discourse-aspectual functions to a sound symbolic expression (e.g. setting perspectives, selecting and evaluating different aspects of cognitive experience; marking an unexpected turn of events). One significant aspect of DAM¹s in Czech is that they exhibit processes similar to derivation and inflexion (unlike parallel derivational processes found in English sound symbolism (Rhodes 1994), the Czech data demonstrates more direct links to morphology). I will describe these processes, using near minimal pairs taken from several sources (the 8-volume dictionary of Standard Czech (1989), the Czech National Corpus Syn2000, and manually collected samples from popular and children's literature and comics). Then I will discuss implications of these suffix-like formations in understanding aspects of grammaticalization in Czech within the cognitive linguistic framework (Lakoff 1987; Langacker 2000). Particular focus will be placed on possible connections between DAM's on the one hand and suffixation in nominal and verbal derivation on the other. Cross-linguistic samples will be also used to support my discussion.

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Nuckolls, J. B. 1996. Sounds like life: Sound-symbolic grammar, performance and cognition in Pastaza Quechua. New York: Oxford UP.
Rhodes, R. 1994. Aural images. In L. Hilton et al. (ed.) Sound Symbolism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 276-92.