Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Where I grew up (UK) there was a pub called The Drysalters. I always liked this name without having any idea what a drysalter was, or having any association or emotional connection to the pub itself.

I have just heard a BBC Radio 4 programme discussing drysalters which said exactly the same thing; that the word is evocative and pleasant to the ear (and ought to be reclaimed - it has fallen out of use).

I know JRR Tolkien famously said cellar door was the most beautiful combination of sounds in English, and this has already been discussed on this site. This has led me to a potted history of phonoaesthetics on Wikipedia.

There seem to be combinations of sounds or words which are pleasant (or unpleasant) to the ear. Although it might sometimes be because of association (Wikipedia has some interesting reasons why the door to the cellar might be evocative), this cannot be the only reason (as in my case with drysalters).

My question is this:

Certain words can find their origins far back in the roots of Indo-European languages, the most obvious one being the ma sound of so many words meaning 'mother'. Is there any traceable reason why phonoaesthetic words are so attractive? Do those particular sounds have their roots deep in the first languages?

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by MετάEd, onomatomaniak, Waggers, Matt Эллен, KitFox Apr 8 '13 at 15:44

Questions on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange are expected to relate to English language and usage within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This is a really interesting question and arguably transcends many languages, not just English. On that basis you may also wish to take a look at Linguistics.SE –  Waggers Apr 8 '13 at 10:13
Also consider posting your research findings in the Discussion tab of the Wikipedia entry. –  Kris Apr 8 '13 at 13:50
Thanks both, I have posted this on Linguistics here –  Mynamite Apr 8 '13 at 14:30

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.