Sound Symbolism Revisited -- a Reconstruction Approach

Tang, Mandera, Keuleers (2013) presented a study on using SUBTLEX-English (400 million words) to model sound symbolism. A well-known linguistic fact about the linkage between sound and meaning is that the relationship is almost or completely arbitrary (Hinton, Nichols, and Ohala, 2006). By using machine-learning techniques, Topic Modelling to quantify meaning, our preliminary results suggested that the connection between sound and meaning is not entirely arbitrary but consistently above random, and furthermore the results agreed with native speakers intuitions of sound symbolism, supporting Jespersen (1922)'s view on intuitions, that is, allegedly sound-symbolic words (such as "clunk", "pop" and "slash") are more reconstructable than just any words.

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Tang, K., Mandera, P., Keuleers, E. The OpenLexicons Project - Development and Uses of Subtlex-Corpora for Investigating Sound Symbolism and Brazilian Portuguese. 3rd NetWordS Workshop, Dubrovnik - Centre for Advanced Academic Studies, Croatia. September 2013. [Short Visit Grant received by NetWordS - 09-RNP-089] [abstract] [slides]
Top-100 Most Sound Symbolic Words
Bottom-100 Least Sound Symbolic Words