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Scrunch, growze, or chobble?: investigating regional variation in sound symbolism in the survey of english dialects


By: David Wright

This paper draws on data extracted from Upton et al.’s (1994) Survey of English Dialects: The Dictionary and Grammar in investigating the regional distribution across England of sound symbolic phonesthemes, that is, word-initial consonant clusters which appear to carry with them a non-arbitrary relationship between sound and meaning. Using such empirical data and employing systematic quantitative analysis, this study avoids the criticism often aimed at sound symbolism research that evidence is speculative and anecdotal.

In operating on the intersection between sound symbolism and dialectology, the research here addresses a field currently understudied due to the scholarly attention paid to the morphological status of phonesthemes and their universality across languages. The results suggest that phonesthemes are to some extent subject to regional variation, indicating that certain phonesthemes are more common in some areas of England than alternatives which appear to carry the same sound-meaning relationship, often producing clear distributional patterns. In turn, these patterns are discussed, and explanations offered, in light of existing dialectological and variationist theoretical constructs. The significance of these findings underlines the contribution that such exploration can make to both the sound symbolism and dialectology fields, as well as highlighting the continuing opportunities for innovative research offered by the Survey of English Dialects material.

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