14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-14)

San Francisco, CA, USA
August 1-7, 1999

Phonesthemes In Swedish

Åsa Abelin

University of Göteborg, Sweden

The Swedish lexicon has been analyzed with emphasis on the sound symbolic properties of initial and final consonant clusters. Lexically infrequent clusters are utilized to a larger extent than lexically frequent clusters. The psychological reality of phonesthemes was tested in experiments of production and understanding. These show that every constructed word is interpreted correctly by at least some subjects. The most common sound symbolic initial consonant clusters found in the lexical analysis are also among the most successfully interpreted by subjects. For production, the experiments indicate that subjects tend to encode the semantic features in initial clusters rather than in final clusters and that they produce neologisms according to expectations, i.e. use the expected initial consonant clusters for certain semantic features. The most frequent semantic features were also the most successfully coded. The words produced also utilized dimensions such as lengthening, reduplication and illegal phonotactics. These spontaneously produced neologisms were also interpreted successfully by another group of subjects. Finally, cross language studies showed that Swedish sound symbolic words were often misinterpreted, but the interpretations were according to the semantic categories of Abelin [1].


  1. Abelin, Å. 1999 Studies in Sound Symbolism. Göteborg: GML. (forthcoming)

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Abelin, Åsa (1999): "Phonesthemes in Swedish", In ICPhS-14, 1333-1336.