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The category called face words includes 145 words relating to things to do with the face. This can then be further sub-categorised into things concerning the mouth and teeth and things concerning the nose. None of the words included in the face category contain anything to do with the eyes. The words within this category are taken from throughout the original dataset and do not just stem from one root word.

Mainly the words in the category exhibit negative connotations they include: snaggle-tooth, snarl, sneke, sniffle, snigger, snivel and snot. Notable exceptions from the list of negative connotations include: snogging included in the category because you use the mouth in kissing, this would be considered a positive connotation because it is a pleasurable experience; snorkel was thought to also hold positive connotations because again it is related to a pleasurable leisure activity.

None of the words contained in the category named deviousness words have positive connotations, they are all negative. The words in this category mainly stem from two root words; snake and sneak. Therefore words such as snakishly and sneekingness have been included in the category. It is worthy of note that not all of the words come from the two main root words: snoop, snitch and snide are included in the category independently of the snake/sneak roots.

Another category which held negative connotations was the category called annoyed words. Again in this category all of the words were found to have negative connotations with the possible exception of snappily. It was felt that the phonestheme at the end of the word held a positive connotation. This can be seen in words such as happily, merrily, silly. The words in this category came from more than one root source but the main ones are derived from snap; giving rise to among other snappishly, snappishness and snapper. Words in this category are very similar to words found in the next category snobbish, uppity words.

The words in this category relate to snobbish acts or behaviour and often relate to people who are presumptuous or critical. This is the second largest category, second to the category of face words with only 57 words. This again is a tiny proportion of the words in the initial dataset. It also shows that the largest category, face words, has by far the over-riding meaning of the phonestheme with more than double the number of examples in that category than in this. The words in this category come from many root words but the two main ones are snob and snub.

The other two categories snow words and snug words are tenuous. Both sets of words seem to derive from only one common root word: snow and snug. This suggests that the original word was formed and that the connected words developed from there. It is not an example of phonesthesia. This is supported further by the fact that both of these categories have quite positive connotations which directly contradicts what has been shown in the other four categories.

It can be seen that the meanings embedded within the four categories that are considered to be related to phonesthesia are deviousness, anger, snobbism and things to do with the nose and mouth. In the first three of these a shared area of meaning is clear, it is a general feeling of anger and superiority, but in the last category of face it is hard to see where this fits in with the others. What has been suggested by Firth (1964: 185) is that the phonestheme is used pejoratively so that the overriding meaning within a word will be negative. Therefore it can be seen that there is one main category of meaning which can be assigned to the phonestheme this is that the words will generally have negative connotations. Having said this, within this category of negative connotation the two subcategories of face words and the large group of anger words can exist. These categories give a more definite meaning to the phonestheme.

This paper has seen that there is a link between sound and meaning to some extent. It has been possible to categorise words according to their meaning but the two categories that were eventually assigned did not agree in meaning. This therefore suggested that there were two possible meanings for the phonestheme, which would not be supportive of phonesthesia. It was seen, however, that both categories of meaning held negative connotations. This could be taken as evidence for phonesthesia if a negative connotation is considered to be a meaning. The academic background to phonesthesia was examined and it was considered in relation to the data set provided.


Diffloth, G. (1994) “i:big, a:small” Hinton, L Nichols, J. Ohala, J.J. Sound Symbolism Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 107-114

Firth, J.R. (1964) The Tongues of Men and Speech London: Oxford University Press

Magnus, M. (1997) Margo’s Magical Letter Page: Theoretical background, Downloaded 01/12/2005 ;;

Marchand H. (1969) The categories and types of present-day English word-formation: a synchronic-diachronic approach. M�nchen: Beck

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