See also Herder on the Origin of Language Kant's Categories (function words) and Word/gesture animations

Word sound/meaning categories

The sound-structure of a word can represent the meaning of the word in a number of ways:

  1. Most straightforwardly the word can sound like its meaning. Examples: hiss, wail, sigh, cuckoo, tick-tock, ding-dong.
  2. A word can generate indirectly a sound representing what the word means. The names of many animals are in this category with other words referring to things which produce sounds. Examples: cat, dog, wolf, wasp, bell, whistle, klaxon, thunder, wind.
  3. A word can directly reproduce the action to which it refers. Examples: spit, suck, chew, yawn, sneer.
  4. A word can generate a deictic gesture, that is, a gesture which involves pointing to what the word refers to. Words for many body parts and some pronouns are in this category. Examples: head, ear, eye, you, he.
  5. A word can generate an action which represents what the word refers to. This is similar to deictic words. Many function words fall in this category as well as many simple action verbs. Examples: this, that, at, forward, back, hit, throw, take, push, point, pluck, pick, sew, heavy, light.
  6. A word may generate a gesture which outlines what the word refers to. Examples: arch, edge, heap.
  7. A word may generate an action picturing the use of an object referred to. Example: needle,
  8. A word may generate a picturing action plus an associated sound. Examples: whip, air, fire.
  9. A word may generate a gesture which amounts to the 'showing' of what the word refers to. This is particularly the case for body parts. Examples: hand, arm, elbow, wrist.
  10. A word may generate a deictic gesture plus an action gesture. Examples: hat, flower.
  11. A word may generate a complex containing visual, sound, deictic or other elements. Examples: snake, rain.
  12. A word may generate an internal feeling or action. Words for emotions seem to come in this category. Examples: bitter, sweet, sour, sad, angry, cheerful.
  13. A word may generate an action or an internal feeling for an abstract, non-concrete meaning. Examples: remember, understand, know. The associated actions may metaphorically represent the meaning e.g. elevate, separate, grasp, spontaneous.
  14. A word may generate a movement or position specifically referring to an aspect of time. Examples: now, then
  1. See illustrative list of words where the sound/meaning relation falls in one or other of the above categories.
  2. For neural basis of word sound/meaning relationships (motor control, motor equivalence, mirror neurons} see the Powerpoint Presentation