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Motivations for Sound Symbolism in Spatial Deixis: A study of 101 languages


  • Niklas Johansson

Summary, in Swedish

This thesis is concerned with the possible existence of a motivated relation between sound and meaning (“sound symbolism”) in demonstrative pronouns. The goal was to search for evidence of such non-arbitrariness, and to gain a better understanding of the motivating factors behind it. Six motivations are considered. Two motivations were based on the senses of Touch and Vision. Two others - on the sense of Hearing, concerning vowels and consonants. Lastly, two concerned “proto-pointing”, based on the senses of touch and vision, respectively.

Demonstrative pronouns belonging to two-way or three-way deictic systems were used through a genetically and areally spread sample consisting of 101 languages. The findings were divided into motivated (supporting the motivations), non-motivated (not supporting the motivations, arbitrary) and anti-motivated (the reverse of motivated, perhaps functionally).

The results showed support for the Touch, Visual and Hearing–Vowel motivations, most strongly for the latter. This implied that the vowel frequency of the demonstrative pronouns is a potent factor in expressing a sound-symbolic relation, perhaps reinforced by the two other motivations. Functional causes such as faster learning of non-arbitrary words are suggested as the driving force behind the phenomenon.






Examensarbete för kandidatexamen


  • Languages and Literatures


  • sound symbolism
  • non-arbitrariness
  • deictic words
  • demonstrative pronouns
  • spatial deixis


  • Jordan Zlatev (Docent)
  • Arthur Holmer (docent)