Cognitive Linguistics 31 (3):515-548 (2020)

Abstract
This study aims to find out whether speakers of different language backgrounds are sensitive to semantic associations attached respectively to two purported phonaesthemes. Participants completed the task in oral and written conditions. They had to match phonaestheme-related definitions with either of two non-words. The results obtained indicate that participants significantly chose non-words beginning with /tr-/ when the definition activated a meaning related to forcible contact, and non-words starting with /fl-/ when the definitions made reference to fluids in the four languages. The results point to the existence of non-arbitrary sound-meaning relations. A corpus-driven study of frequencies of lemmas and word tokens starting with the purported phonaesthemes also sheds light on the possible origin of the phonaesthemic associations, suggesting that both iconicity and systematicity motivate such associations. The results obtained are interpreted in the context of a functional, usage-based model of language, which can accommodate the existence of iconic tendencies, the role of learning and linguistic experience in language, and arbitrariness.
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DOI 10.1515/cog-2018-0079
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