Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 3
  • Cited by
    This chapter has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Jurčević, Jana 2019. Language, Music and Computing. Vol. 943, Issue. , p. 91.

    Schroder, M. 2006. Expressing degree of activation in synthetic speech. IEEE Transactions on Audio, Speech and Language Processing, Vol. 14, Issue. 4, p. 1128.

    Cook, N.D. Fujisawa, T.X. and Takami, K. 2006. Evaluation of the affective valence of speech using pitch substructure. IEEE Transactions on Audio, Speech and Language Processing, Vol. 14, Issue. 1, p. 142.

  • Print publication year: 1995
  • Online publication date: August 2010

22 - The frequency code underlies the sound-symbolic use of voice pitch



In this paper I propose that certain global uses of intonation across languages exhibit sound symbolism, i.e. they show a motivated link between the shape of an intonation pattern and its meaning or function. This is not a new claim (Hermann 1942) and, in general, there is a very large literature claiming the existence of sound symbolism in other, usually segmental or lexical, domains. But there are several good reasons for being sceptical of such claims, including those I make here.

First, it runs counter to the dominant Saussurian dictum that “the sign is arbitrary,” i.e. that the link between sound and meaning is conventional, not natural. This has been a productive working principle and we should not weaken its application to language without good reason. Actually, some amount of acoustic iconism or onomatopoeia in language has always been acknowledged, but it was usually held to represent a negligible fraction of the entire language.

Second, there has typically been no convincing theory offered as to why sound symbolism should exist in languages, nor for the most part has anyone offered a motivation for linkage between particular phonetic features and semantic features. Notable exceptions to this can be found in the work of Paget (1930) and Fonagy (1983), among others, although none of these can be said to have had widespread influence.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

Sound Symbolism
  • Online ISBN: 9780511751806
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *