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ITOE: Ch. 2, Concepts, Language, and Onomatopoeia

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JMeganSnow
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Maybe someone that speaks a language other than English better than I do can help me answer this question.

After reading the chapter on concept-formation, I was curious as to how new words are formed. I notice I use some onamatopoeic language . . . words that aren't actually words but sound like they might be, especially words that sound like the thing they describe.

Anyway, for my actual question: I've noticed these onomatopoeic words are often used for optional concepts; words that denote subtle shadings of differentiation between things that are still covered by a broader concept. Is this the same in other languages? Is it a common trait? Or is it just English?

I've heard that the same idea can "sound" different to people that speak different languages; is this accurate?

Essentially, I'm curious as to how people pick words to represent concepts.

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After reading the chapter on concept-formation, I was curious as to how new words are formed. I notice I use some onamatopoeic language . . . words that aren't actually words but sound like they might be, especially words that sound like the thing they describe.
Can you give an example of what you mean? “Onomatopoeia” is generally used to refer to a word whose sound is similar to that of the thing it denotes. Reasonably clear examples would be “woof”, “meow”, “hiss”. Even though such words may well have historically originated from imitation of sounds, they are conventionalized in the particular language. If you don’t know that language, your ability to guess the referent won’t be very high. Anyhow, I can’t imagine what words that aren’t actual words you might be using (you see the contradiction, I assume), or how they relate especially to optional concepts.
I've heard that the same idea can "sound" different to people that speak different languages; is this accurate?
The concepts “cow”, “water” and “sky” are represented by very different words across languages, which sound quite different. I assume that this is almost self-evident, and that your question is really more narrowly about imitative words. Generally this is true, but there are some broad tendencies, for example using the vowel "ee" for small things and "oo" for big things, which is based on resonance properties of the vowel sounds and the fact that large resonators have a low resonance frequency like "oo" does, and small resonators have a high resonance frequency like "ee" does.
Essentially, I'm curious as to how people pick words to represent concepts.
This, on the other hand, is a very different question. You learn the correct existing word-unit relationship from others who already know the words (“cow”, “torque” and so on). When you invent a word to go with some concept (because you’ve invented some nifty new tool and you need a name for it), you have to make a choice. Although the label you assign to a product is technically arbitrary, the best policy for successful product naming is to construct a name that is sufficiently similar to existing words that you’d want people to think of (e.g. “Glatulence” is not a good name for a perfume), but not so close that you’ll end up in court (I don’t care if your name is “Mike Row”, do not name your fabric softener “Mike Row Soft”). Name-inventing is a business.
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Can you give an example of what you mean? “Onomatopoeia” is generally used to refer to a word whose sound is similar to that of the thing it denotes.

Sure . . . on another thread (when I was mildly annoyed) I used the word "smooged" to denote someone taking two separate ideas and . . . hmm . . . conflating them into one idea that didn't make sense. To me, "smooged" is very much the sound I associate with, say, taking two pieces of clay and kneading them together, although that doesn't really make a "sound" per se.

I understand I'm not making much sense, but I simply couldn't think of a better word than onomatopoeia for this. If you've read any Terry Pratchett (Equal Rites, I think) he mentions this phenomenon also . . . that the word "glisten" describes perfectly the sound of the slightly oily reflection of light off water, if it made a sound.

What I'm wondering is whether this is a primary perception (do we associate certain sounds with certain visual/tactile sensations automatically) or is it something that is automatized after we learn a language?

Generally this is true, but there are some broad tendencies, for example using the vowel "ee" for small things and "oo" for big things, which is based on resonance properties of the vowel sounds and the fact that large resonators have a low resonance frequency like "oo" does, and small resonators have a high resonance frequency like "ee" does.

This seems like a partial step in that direction.

(I don’t care if your name is “Mike Row”, do not name your fabric softener “Mike Row Soft”). Name-inventing is a business.

Oh, David, :)!

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I used the word "smooged"...
Oh, that example. I thought it was an amusing invention. If you Google it, it shows up in a few places, but those seem to me mostly unrelated. The Audubon post looks closest. A better-known example of that process is “crunk”, which was cooked up not so long ago by some hip-hop artist. At any rate, it looks like a blending of “smash”, “smooth” and “smudge”.
What I'm wondering is whether this is a primary perception (do we associate certain sounds with certain visual/tactile sensations automatically) or is it something that is automatized after we learn a language?
Up to a point, certain acoustic structures tend to suggest particular real-world things (like the “ee” / “oo” thing and size). I don’t think it’s automatic in any built-in sense, but for instance given that large resonators do have low resonance frequencies and “oo” has a low resonance frequency, the chances are good that anyone who have experienced a few large resonators will put two and two together. There hasn’t been much systematic research done on this. Once sounds become conventionalised into language, imitative sound properties don’t play much of a role. It’s impossible to test whether a person with no language at all will form these same associations; I don’t think anyone has done any systematic work on comparing, say, speakers of Chinese, Russian, Swahili and English to see what they associate with otherwise meaningless sounds. I suspect setting up the experiment would be such a huge task, and without a clear causal theory that could make sense of the results, I think it would just be a fishing expedition, and yuo'd be as likely to dredge up a boot as a fish.
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