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Sound symbolism in Korean1

  • Kong-On Kim (a1)

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I. In Korean, alternation between certain vowels or consonants in sound symbolic adjectives and adverbs is regularly correlated with a connotation shift in those words. The examples below illustrate such alternation and the resulting connotation shift: (i) Vowel alternation: /piŋkwl/ ‘(turn) round and round’ /pεŋkwl/ ‘round and round (the circle involved is smaller and the movement faster)’

(2) Consonant alternation: /piŋkwl/ ‘round and round’ /phiŋkwl/ ‘round and round (the movement is more powerful and faster)’ ‘ppiŋkwl/ same as /phiŋkwl/ The alternation between /i/ and /ε/ in the examples in (1) brings about a connotation shift in the speed of the movement and also in the size of the moving object and of the circle made by the circular movement. In the examples in (2), the alternation between the word initial lenis stop /p/ on the one hand, and its aspirated or tense counterpart on the other, signals a connotation shift in the speed and force of the movement, but curiously not in the size of the circle or of the moving object. These means of changing the connotation of words are highly productive in the sense that, given a basic word that belongs to the category of sound symbolic words, native speakers can predict the form and connotation of the paired member resulting from the phoneme alternation.

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Sound symbolism in Korean1

  • Kong-On Kim (a1)

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