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Relative frequency and semantic relations as organizing principles for the psychological reality of phonaesthemes

The perception of Swedish phonaesthemes and their psychological reality is studied in priming and lexical decision experiments. Abelin (1999) described phonaesthemes such as: bl- ‘light, vision’ in words like ‘blänka, blixtra’ and fl- ’movement’ in words like ‘fladdra, flaxa’. Bergen (2004) studied phonaesthemes like: gl- ‘light, vision’ in words like ‘glimmer, glisten’ and sn- ‘nose, mouth’ as in ‘snore, snout’. The first hypothesis is that if the presence of phonaesthemes affects processing, then primed responses should be faster than unprimed (i.e. in lexical decision) responses. The second hypothesis is that the degree of facilitation from priming for indivual phonaesthemes will correlate with relative lexical frequency. The method used is a comparison between priming tasks and lexical decision tasks. Three experiments were run, with the same design but partly different phonaesthemes. The results show that phonaesthemic priming affects processing and that there are clear differences between different phonaesthemes when combining related meanings; there is a positive correlation between high relative lexical frequency of phonaesthemic clusters and increase of speed in priming condition. The results are compatible with an embodied usage based perspective on language and language acquisition.

Keywords: phonaestheme, sound symbolism, frequency, priming, embodiment

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