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I just noticed while writing a few examples of similar words that uncannily sound like each other phonetically.

Examples: An example is the similar words: “gleaming”, “glittering”, “glinting”, and “glimmering”.

Also: “repulsive” and “repugnant” are interesting.

There are more words like this but I can’t think of them immediately on the spot. Obviously English is a rich language and thus one can find numerous examples seemingly showing different things, but is this to do with the roots of the words? As in, do they actually share the same etymology or are they just coincidental?

  • I thought initially that they would have the same etymologies but perhaps a couple centuries ago a couple of branches split up and different words arose from the same origin...this is intriguing. – user382745 Apr 25 at 19:44
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    They have the same PIE root *ghel- meaning to shine: gild; glad; glance; glare; glass; glaze; glazier; gleam; glee; glib; glide; glimmer; glimpse; glint; glissade; glisten; glister; glitch; glitter; glitzy; gloaming; gloat; gloss; glow; glower; gold; guilder - Etymonline – 0.. Apr 25 at 20:14
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    Certain sounds provoke a particular emotion. The leading "gl" sound seems happy and positive. The "ab" sound seems negative. Similarly with "rep". Of course, partly this is because of their association with some of the above words, but partly the above words survived generations of word evolution because of the way they sounded. – Hot Licks Apr 25 at 20:28
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    Another example: wer-(2) is the root from which many wr- words are derived, including wrangle, wreathe, wrench, wrestle, wriggle, wring, wrinkle, wrong and wry. – Rosie F Apr 26 at 8:29
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Yes, all of your examples share the same etymology and can be traced back to the PIE root *ghel. As explained in etymonline.com (emphasis mine):

*ghel- (2)

Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to shine;" it forms words for "gold" (the "bright" metal), words denoting colors, especially "yellow" and "green," also "bile, gall," for is color, and a large group of Germanic gl- words having to do with shining and glittering and, perhaps, sliding. Buck says the interchange of words for yellow and green is "perhaps because they were applied to vegetation like grass, cereals, etc., which changed from green to yellow."

It forms all or part of: arsenic; Chloe; chloral; chloride; chlorinate; chlorine; chloro-; chloroform; chlorophyll; chloroplast; cholecyst; choler; cholera; choleric; cholesterol; cholinergic; Cloris; gall (n.1) "bile, liver secretion;" gild; glad; glance; glare; glass; glaze; glazier; gleam; glee; glib; glide; glimmer; glimpse; glint; glissade; glisten; glister; glitch; glitter; glitzy; gloaming; gloat; gloss (n.1) "glistening smoothness, luster;" glow; glower; gold; guilder; jaundice; melancholic; melancholy; yellow; zloty.

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit harih "yellow, tawny yellow," hiranyam "gold;" Avestan zari "yellow;" Old Persian daraniya-, Avestan zaranya- "gold;" Greek khlōros "greenish-yellow color," kholos "bile, gall, wrath;" Latin helvus "yellowish, bay," Gallo-Latin gilvus "light bay;" Lithuanian geltonas "yellow;" Old Church Slavonic zlutu, Polish żółty, Russian zeltyj "yellow;" Latin galbus "greenish-yellow," fellis "bile, gall;" Lithuanian žalias "green," želvas "greenish," tulžis "bile;" Old Church Slavonic zelenu, Polish zielony, Russian zelenyj "green;" Old Irish glass, Welsh and Breton glas "green," also "gray, blue;" Old English galla "gall, bile," geolu, geolwe, German gelb, Old Norse gulr "yellow;" Old Church Slavonic zlato, Russian zoloto, Old English gold, Gothic gulþ "gold;" Old English glæs "glass; a glass vessel."


The same principle holds for repugnant and repulsive both of which are derived from Latin words using the word forming element -re meaning "back to the original place; again, anew, once more". In the case of repugnant, the etymology (according to etymonline) is (emphasis mine):

repugnant (adj.)

late 14c., "contrary, contradictory," from Old French repugnant "contradictory, opposing" or directly from Latin repugnantem (nominative repugnans), present participle of repugnare "to resist, fight back, oppose; disagree, be incompatible," from re- "back" (see re-) + pugnare "to fight" (from PIE root *peuk- "to prick"). Meaning "distasteful, objectionable" is from 1777.

And that of repulsive is:

repulsive (adj.)

early 15c., "able to repel," from Middle French repulsif (14c.) and directly from Medieval Latin repulsivus, from repuls-, past participle stem of repellere (see repel). The sense of "causing disgust" is first recorded 1816. Related: Repulsively; repulsiveness.

While repel's is (emphasis mine):

repel (v.)

early 15c., "to drive away, remove," from Old French repeller or directly from Latin repellere "to drive back," from re- "back" (see re-) + pellere "to drive, strike" (from PIE root *pel- (5) "to thrust, strike, drive"). Meaning "to affect (a person) with distaste or aversion" is from 1817. Related: Repelled; repelling.

As you can see, both words can be traced back to the same -re.

So yes, for both the sets you mention in your question, the reason they sound similar is that they share similar etymologies. I believe it is this shared origin which gives rise to the phonaesthetic effect described in Decapitated Soul's answer. The reason these words all sound similar is because of their shared etymology, and the result of this similarity is the phonaesthetic effect.

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    @DecapitatedSoul actually, yes, they do, most of them anyway. The st- is used for words that convey some form of rigidity. But note that I am not saying your answer is wrong (I even upvoted it), only that I think it is describing the effect and not the cause. The reason these words all sound similar is because of their shared etymology, and the result of this similarity is the phonaesthetic effect you describe. – terdon Apr 26 at 18:05
  • this can be taken a step further to ask why *peuk and *pel should be so similar, and indeed there is a bunch of roots that are most well known as reflected in prepositions, off, of, Gr. epi-, apo, etc. that also appear in verbs, e.g. Hittite pai, paii "to go" (by one account). However, these are not associated as far as I know, so one has to keep asking, alas, surely not etymonline that has *pel with 5 different definitions from AHD, pokorny, etc, which is somewhat outdated now anyway. – vectory Apr 28 at 12:25
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Gleaming, glittering, glinting and glimmering etc sound similar and have virtually the same meanings because they share the same phonestheme gl-.

Repugnant, repulsive, reprehend, repent, reprove etc sound similar and are contiguous because they have a common phonestheme rep-.

The study of phonesthemes is called phonaesthetics and the phenomena is called phonesthesia or sound symbolism.

Sound symbolism:

The term sound symbolism refers to the apparent association between particular sound sequences and particular meanings in speech. Certain sounds elicit a particular emotion. Also known as sound-meaningfulness and phonetic symbolism.

Example:

"Here's an experiment. You're in a spaceship approaching a planet. You've been told there are two races on it, one beautiful and friendly to humans, the other unfriendly, ugly and mean-spirited. You also know that one of these groups is called the Lamonians; the other is called the Grataks. Which is which? "Most people assume that the Lamonians are the nice guys. It's all a matter of sound symbolism. Words with soft sounds such as 'l,' 'm,' and 'n,' and long vowels or diphthongs, reinforced by a gentle polysyllabic rhythm, are interpreted as 'nicer' than words with hard sounds such as 'g' and 'k,' short vowels and an abrupt rhythm." – (David Crystal, "The Ugliest Words." The Guardian, July 18, 2009)


Phonesthesia:

In linguistics, sound symbolism, phonesthesia or phonosemantics is the idea that vocal sounds or phonemes carry meaning in and of themselves.

Origin: In the 18th century, Mikhail Lomonosov propagated a theory that words containing certain sounds should bear certain meanings; for instance, the front vowel sounds E, I, YU should be used when depicting tender subjects and those with back vowel sounds O, U, Y when describing things that may cause fear ("like anger, envy, pain, and sorrow").

However, it is Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) who is considered to be the founder of modern 'scientific' linguistics. Central to what de Saussure says about words are two related statements: First, he says that "the sign is arbitrary". He considers the words that we use to indicate things and concepts could be any words – they are essentially just a consensus agreed upon by the speakers of a language and have no discernible pattern or relationship to the thing. Second, he says that, because words are arbitrary, they have meaning only in relation to other words. A dog is a dog because it is not a cat or a mouse or a horse, etc. These ideas have permeated the study of words since the 19th century.

Phonaesthetics:

(in North America, also spelled phonesthetics) is the study of beauty and pleasantness associated with the sounds of certain words or parts of words. The term was first used in this sense, perhaps by J. R. R. Tolkien, during the mid-twentieth century and derives from the Greek: φωνή (phōnē, "voice-sound") plus the Greek: αἰσθητική (aisthētikē, "aesthetic").

Speech sounds have many aesthetic qualities, some of which are subjectively regarded as euphonious (pleasing) or cacophonous (displeasing). Phonaesthetics remains a budding and often subjective field of study, with no scientifically or otherwise formally established definition; today, it mostly exists as a marginal branch of psychology, phonetics, or poetics.

More broadly, phonaesthetics refers to the study of "phonaesthesia": sound symbolism. For instance, the British linguist David Crystal, who has compiled research on popular perceptions of beautiful-sounding English words, regards phonaesthetics as the "study of aesthetic properties of sounds, especially the sound symbolism attributable to individual sounds".

For example: English-speakers tend to associate unpleasantness with the sound sl- in such words as sleazy, slime, slug, slut and slush, or to associate formless repetition with -tter in such words as chatter, flutter, and shatter.Wikipedia:

Phonestheme:

The term phonestheme (/foʊˈnɛsθiːm/; phonaestheme in British English) was coined in 1930 by British linguist J. R. Firth (from the Greek φωνή phone, "sound", and αἴσθημα aisthema, "perception" from αίσθάνομαι aisthanomai, "I perceive") to label the systematic pairing of form and meaning in a language. Such pairing would violate the arbitrariness principle of semantics.

A phonestheme is different from a morpheme because it does not meet the normal criterion of compositionality.

Within Peirce's "theory of signs" the phonestheme is considered to be an "icon" rather than a "symbol" or an "index".

Identification:

Phonesthemes are of critical interest to students of the internal structure of words because they appear to be a case where the internal structure of the word is non-compositional; i.e., a word with a phonestheme in it has other material in it that is not itself a morpheme. Phonesthemes "fascinate some linguists", as Ben Zimmer has phrased it, in a process that can become "mystical" or "unscientific".5

For example, the English phonestheme gl- occurs in a large number of words relating to light or vision, like "glitter", "glisten", "glow", "gleam", "glare", "glint", "glimmer", "gloss", and so on; yet, despite this, the remainder of each word is not itself a phonestheme (i.e., a pairing of form and meaning); i.e., "-isten", "-ow", and "-eam" do not make meaningful contributions to "glisten", "glow", and "gleam".

Distribution:

Phonesthemes have been documented in numerous languages from diverse language families, among them English, Swedish, and other Indo-European languages, Austronesian languages, and Japanese.

While phonesthemes have mostly been identified in the onsets of words and syllables, they can have other forms. There has been some argument that sequences like -ash and -ack in English also serve as phonesthemes, due to their patterning in words that denote forceful, destructive contact ("smash", "crash", "bash", etc.) and abrupt contact ("smack", "whack", "crack", etc.), respectively.

In addition to the distribution of phonesthemes, linguists consider their motivation. In some cases, there may appear to be good sound-symbolic reasons why phonesthemes would have the form they have. In the case of -ack, for example, we might imagine that the words sharing this phonestheme do so because they denote events that would produce a similar sound. But critically, there are many phonesthemes for which there can be no sound-symbolic basis, such as gl-, for the simple reason that their meanings (such as 'pertaining to light or vision') entail no sound.

While there are numerous studies on living languages, research is lacking about ancient languages, although the first documented example of phonesthemes dates back to at least the fourth century B.C.: Plato's Cratylus clearly mentioned a gl- phonestheme (a different one from that discussed previously, as those words are not of Greek origin) as well as an st- one and gave an explanation in terms of phonosemantics.

Examples:

  1. gl- occurs in a large number of words relating to light or vision, like "glitter", "glisten", "glow", "gleam", "glare", "glint", "glimmer", "gloss", and so on; yet, despite this, the remainder of each word is not itself a phonestheme (i.e., a pairing of form and meaning); i.e., "-isten", "-ow", and "-eam" do not make meaningful contributions to "glisten", "glow", and "gleam".

  2. sn- related to the mouth or nose, as in "snarl", "snout", "snicker", "snack", "sneeze" and so on.

  3. sl- appears in words denoting frictionless motion, like "slide", "slick", "sled", and so on. These are themselves a subset of a larger set of words beginning with sl- that are pejorative behaviours, traits, or events: slack, slouch, sludge, slime, slosh, slash, sloppy, slug, sluggard, slattern, slut, slang, sly, slither, slow, sloth, sleepy, sleet, slip, slipshod, slope, slit, slay, sleek, slant, slovenly, slab, slap, slough, slum, slump, slobber, slaver, slur, slog, slate.

  4. sl- (another meaning) a falling blow as in slay, slaughter, slit, sling, slash, slap, slam etc.

    • sl- is also associated with slimy/slushy matter as in slime, slush, slop, slough, slobber, sludge, slosh, sloppy etc.
  5. st- that appears in three families of meanings:

    • a family of words referring to stability, as in "stable", "station", "stationary", "statue", "stand", "status", "stator", "stature", "static", "stadium","standart", "stage", "stake", "stare", "stall", "stay", "state", "stablish", "stand", "stage", "stake", "stare", "stall", "stay", "state", "stet", "stasis", "stance", "stanchion", "staid", "steady", "stoll", "still", "store", etc.

    • a family of words referring to the idea of strength, of rigidity, as "stout", "steel", "staff", "stave", "staple", etc.

    • another family referring to the idea of something pointed or sharp, as in "stab", "Stylet", "stiletto", "stylo", "sting", "stitch", "stet", "staple", etc – Wikipedia


  1. fl-, which is expressive of movement and characterizes a family of words, as in: flap, flare, flee, flick, flicker, flounder, fling, flip, flit, flitter, flow, flutter, fly, flurry, flounce, flourish, flout, flail, flash, flex, flinch, flock, flop (actually, this is just a partial list since there seem to be about 125 words with this phonestheme . . .).

  2. sn- (initial), found in words dealing with the nose: snore, snorkel, sniff, sniffle, snuffle, snuff, snivel, snout, snoot, snub, snot, snob, snotty, sneer, sneeze, snoop (Bolinger 1965b:197, Spencer 1991:33) Phonesthemes do not have to be initial in words; they may also be final [or medial]."

  3. L Words: "Recently I had cause to check the thesaurus for synonyms for 'unchaste, wanton.' Is it a coincidence that so many of these words began with 'l' -- licentious, lascivious, loose, lubricous, lecherous, libidinous, lustful, lickerish and lewd, to name a few? Somehow this luscious, liquidy l-sound seems well suited to convey the sense of wantonness. Words commonly group this way, sharing both meaning and a vague resemblance of sound. So the sounds we use to stand for things might start off being arbitrary, but over time the arbitrariness often falls away."

  4. The Sc- Sk- Group: "Phonestheme groups have a tendency to ramify in networks throughout the language, forming what [Dwight] Bolinger called 'word constellations.' Such constellations consist of groups of words sharing similar meanings and linked by alliteration (shared initial phonestheme clusters) and rhyme (shared final phonestheme clusters)... "The sc- sk- group illustrates the point that a phonestheme group can develop from a phonestheme nucleus of Old English roots, which have perennially attracted new words through borrowing, blending, alliteration, and rhyme, and the perceived similarity of meaning. Professor Michael Samuels puts this more simply: 'A phonestheme may grow from minor coincidental identification between a few roots to much larger patterns' (Samuels 1972: 47). The words scamper, skedaddle, scoundrel, scallywag, skulk, scrimshank, skive are all labeled 'etymology unknown' or 'etymology uncertain' in modern dictionaries. They all share in common the meaning 'swift, light movement,' thus associating them with the initial sc- sk- group. There is, however, a further association of 'swift, light movement away from one's responsibilities and duties'; hence, the pejorative sense of these words, a sense that is even present in the original skip 'to skip one's duties.' These additions illustrate well the 'larger patterns' that such a phonestheme may acquire through time, and perhaps scab, 'a disloyal trade unionist,' could be added here also."

  5. tw- is associated with twisting as in twist, twirl, tweak, twill, tweed, tweezer, twiddle, twine, twinge etc.

(Bolinger, 1950, p. 133; Firth, 1930, p. 186)

  1. irl/url with circular as in twirl, curl, furl, burl, knurl, whirl, hurl, swirl, purl.

  2. cl- denoting sound cluck, click, clap, clack, clash, clutter, clang, clank, clamber, clamour, clam, clump, clip (Marchand 1969, p. 410)

  3. spr- with spread as in sprout, spread, spring, sprawl, sprinkle etc.

  4. /p/ appears in many families of meanings:

    • /p/ in most words is associated with explosive sounds with an abrupt onset as in pop, peep, ping, pow, pitter, patter, peal, puff, ping, ping- pong, pang, pom-pom (machine gun), put-put (old car),

    • Associated with plants or plant parts such as pip, pit, pulp, pod, palm, pickle, pomace (the dry or pulpy residue of material (as fruit, seeds, or fish) from which a liquid (as juice or oil) has been pressed or extracted; something crushed to a pulpy mass), pistil (the ovule-bearing organ of a seed plant consisting of the ovary with its appendages), pinder (peanut), peanut, pinda (a ball of rice offered to Hindu ancestors; the West Indian peanut), pea, pumpkin, peach, pineapple, plum, papaya, pear etc.

    • Associated with birds such as penguin, parrot, pigeon, peacock, partridge, pipit, paauw (the South African bustard), pen (swan), parakeet, pelican, plover, puffin, puffbird etc.

  5. /w/ is associated with air, breath, forcible movement as in whine, whistle, whisper, whirl, whip (move the wings briskly), whoop, whap, whop (cast, strike), wheeze, whew (whistle), whish, whimper, whinny, whizz, whiff (puff, whistle), whiffle (blow in puffs), whoo, whicker (snigger, titter), whack, whoof (gruff cry), whang (beat), whing (move up with great force), whuff (sound of a forcible blast or breath of wind), whoosh (soft sibilant sound), wheep (long-drawn sound of a steel weapon drawn from its sheath), whit (sound of a bird), whing (high-pitched ringing sound) {variant of whang} etc.

  6. /g/ is associated with throat: gulch (swallow, devour greedily), gulp, gush, gaggle, giggle, gabble (jabber), gobble (said of turkey cock), gurgle, guggle, guttle (eat greedily), guzzle (swallow liquor greedily), gargle, gulch (ravine, cleft), gab (talk), gob (talk), gob (mouth, beak), guff (puff, whiff), guffaw, gong (Malay) etc.

  7. /j/ (y-) can be associated with shouting, yelling, crying, chattering or other similar sounds as in yell, yelp, yap, yatter, yammer, yay, yowl, yesk, yawl, yip etc.

  8. /w/ (w-) can be associated with Insanity or stupidity or other negative meanings: wanker, wazzock, whacko, wacko, wacky, whacky, whacked, wicked, weird, woeful, worthless etc.

  9. /skw/ (squ-) can denote discordant, eruptive sounds: squeal, squeak, squash (quash), squall (scream discordantly) {variant of squeal}, squish {variant of squash}, squidge {variant of squish}, squitter, squirt, squawk (cry with a harsh note), squirk (half-suppressed laugh, squeak), squank etc.

English phonesthemes dictionary


Advancing Hot Licks's comment:

Certain sounds provoke a particular emotion. The leading "gl" sound seems happy and positive. The "ab" sound seems negative. Similarly with "rep". Of course, partly this is because of their association with some of the above words, but partly the above words survived generations of word evolution because of the way they sounded.

  1. rep- can be associated with negative, chastising, rebuking or disapproving as in reprimand, reproach, reprehend, repent, reprove, repulsive, repugnant, reprobate, repress etc.

  2. ab- can also be associated with negative meanings: abhorrent, abhor, abrasive, absurd, abuse, abominable, abolish, abduct, aberrant etc.

Also ob-: obstruct, obscene, obliterate, obscure, obstinate, oblique etc.


  1. pr-: human (social role) as in proud, prior, prophet, profit, proxy, prosper, pride, price, private, prize, precious, prelate, prep, praetor, prince, privy, priest, pro, pray, pram, prance, prattle, proffer, prom, prude, prompt, proper, prayer, prate, praise, prig, prim, primp, prink, prissy, pretty, preach, preen promise etc. – From John Lawler's research papers.
  1. br-: bright, brilliant, brisk and brainy are contiguous – Mitch

a) Why most of the function words have a common /ð/ sound?

b) Why most of the negative words start with /n/?

Answers:

They share the same root words but they also share the same phonestheme and elicit a particular emotion.

a) Function words such as that, than, the, their, there, them, these, they, this, those, though, themselves, therefore etc. have the same phonestheme -> /ð/.

b) Negative words such as no, not, nothing, never, no one, none, nobody, nowhere, neither, nor etc. have the same phonestheme -> /n/.

bradrn's comment:

I don’t think it’s particularly accurate to describe /ð/ and /n/ there as phonaesthemes. Rather they result from diachronic processes: all the function words listed ultimately derive from the Proto-Indo-European demonstrative root *-to-, and similarly all the negative words ultimately derive from PIE *ne-.

Indeed, they share the same root but according to phonesthetics, they sound similar and provoke a particular emotion so they can be identified as phonesthemes.


The Origins of English Phonesthemes:

It is important to note that phonesthemes seem to outlast languages and, just as a starry sky is a window into our cosmological past, so to are phonesthemes a window into our linguistic past. Phonesthemes are furthermore a glimpse into our linguistic future: English will not last forever, but it is highly likely that at least some of its phonesthemes will last until the end of human language itself. The English lexicon contains more lexemes than that of any other language. Daunting at first though it may be, the lexicon actually has an underlying order: most English words, whether borrowed from Germanic, Old Norse, French, Greek, or Latin, ultimately derive from a single language, Indo-European. From our most common words to our most elaborate, our vocabulary seems to be an eerie reconstruction (or recapitulation) of Indo-European.

Phonesthesia is a phonetic, rather than etymological, phenomenon. Someone ignorant as to whether tip and top were cognate would nonetheless have no trouble psychologically associating the two words. From a phonesthetic perspective, the most important linguistic element is not vocabulary, it is sound, and the pedigreed sounds of Indo-European echo in virtually every utterance we make.

The following English words derive from the IE root *peuk (prick): impugn (to challenge the integrity or veracity of; attack; to assail by words or arguments, as statements, motives, or veracity; call in question; challenge as false), expunge (cancel; remove; to strike out, obliterate, or mark for deletion; annihilate; delete; edit; rub out), pugilist, pugilistic, pygmy, pungent (having a stiff and sharp point; sharply painful; poignant; caustic; stinging; pointed; telling; causing a sharp or irritated sensation; racy; savory; spicy), pounce (claw; to swoop upon and seize something with or as if with talons; a fine powder formerly used to prevent ink from spreading; a fine powder for making stenciled patterns; emboss; sprinkle), poignant (intense; penetrating; painful; pathetic; piercing; pungent), point, puncture, punctuate, fuck {hypothetical}.

From IE *peuk derives an English phonestheme, the initial cluster /p/ (explosive vocal sounds, energy, fighting, etc.) which is potent in the following words: pipe, peep, puff, poof, purr, purl (gentle murmuring or bubbling sound like the water of a shallow stream flowing over stones), pop, pash (dash, smash), pat (dab), patter (the quick talk or chatter of a comedian or entertainer, salesman, etc.; the slang or private language used by a particular group or class; to repeat mechanically without considering the meaning; to talk volubly but without much sense) {from paternoster}, pitter (make small sounds like a grasshopper), puke, etc. Patter is a good example of a word that doesn't relate etymologically to *peuk, that nonetheless conforms phonesthetically to the *peuk words.

Why a Phonestheme is not a Morpheme:

There are many obvious similarities between a phonestheme and a morpheme. A morpheme, such as the prefix proto-, has both a characteristic sound and a meaning. A phonestheme, such as the initial cluster /gl/ also has a characteristic sound and a meaning. Indeed, some linguists consider phonesthemes to be nothing more than particular type of morpheme. Confusing the issue is the word morpheme itself. A minimal sign is a linguistic sign that does not contain smaller elements. Properly, a morpheme is a set of minimal signs with identical content. For example, the /z/ of boys, the /Iz/ of stitches, and the /s/ of cats are minimal signs of the same morpheme. Unfortunately, a common definition of morpheme is "the smallest meaningful language unit" which seems to blur the distinction between morphemes and minimal signs. A phonestheme is a type of minimal sign: the same speaker always pronounces instances of the same phonestheme in the same way.

Morphemes are said to be segmentable: unlike phonesthemes, morphemes play a syntactic role in a word. Morphemes can change the part of speech of a word and, often, morphemes can be inserted only in certain locations within a word. Phonesthemes can appear anywhere in a word and they never play a syntactic role.

The semantic content of a morpheme, which is often directly present in dictionary denotations, is more potent than that of a phonestheme. For example, just about every proto- word has something to do with earliness but only a fraction of gl- words have anything to do with light or shining.

Virtually all instances of the same morpheme derive from the same etymon. As discussed in the section in the previous section, this need not be the case for phonesthemes - Phonesthemes dictionary


The following links might be helpful:

The Reality of English Phonaesthemes

Psychological reality of English phonesthemes

Phonesthemes – Dyslexia Training Institute

Sound Symbolism – Berkeley UC

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    One comment on the past points about functions words and negative words: I don’t think it’s particularly accurate to describe /ð/ and /n/ there as phonaesthemes. Rather they result from diachronic processes: all the function words listed ultimately derive from the Proto-Indo-European demonstrative root *-to-, and similarly all the negative words ultimately derive from PIE *ne-. – bradrn Apr 26 at 14:19
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    Aren't all of those negative words easily explained by their etymology? Aren't they all simply derived from the PIE root *ne? And the "function" words by their common connection to the PIE root *to-? Aren't most, if not all, of your examples similarly explained by shared etymology? – terdon Apr 26 at 16:53
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    @DecapitatedSoul that sounds like an a posteriori argument. The shared etymology means that words using those sounds tend to have similar meaning and, by extension, we have associated those meanings with those sounds. However, the reason they sound similar is because of their shared etymology, and phonaesthetics, interesting though the concept is, seems to simply be a natural consequence of their shared origins. In other words, phonaesthetics cannot explain why the words sound similar, it simply describes the fact that they do sound similar. – terdon Apr 26 at 17:05
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    @terdon The association of certain feelings with certain sounds does not have to be a non-commutative property. Of course, the next why question would be off-topic. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 26 at 19:08
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    I've done a bit of work on the subject, as it happens. For example, the BL- and BR- assonances (initial cluster phonesthemes), or the KL- assonance. Rimes (syllabic nucleus plus coda phonesthemes) are equally interesting, but pattern differently, as this handout shows. Full details are available here. – John Lawler Apr 26 at 23:33

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