chapter  10
12 Pages

Phonaesthemes

The term 'phonaestheme' was first used by J.R. Firth (1930, 184) for sequences like the sl-of slack, slouch, slush and the -ump of slump, bump, dump. Firth describes these elements as affective and notes that they have become identifiable after repeated appearances in particular kinds of context. 'It is all a matter of habit' (187). But establishing the nature of phonaesthemes and deciding which parts of words can plausibly be regarded as phonaesthetic (or phonaesthemic) elements is not at all straightforward. In 1.6 phonaestheme formations were collectively described as 'expressive', but at the heart of this area of the vocabulary are words intended to name and represent sounds. We can begin then by looking at some examples of formations which might be called 'imitative' of sound.!