Chinese Kanji Phonosemantics
– Free Online Kanji Etymology Dictionary –
The branch of linguistics that provides the general framework for this research is known as phonosemantics. Webster's defines the term as "the study of the meaning and symbolism of vocal sounds." According to this view, consonants and vowels in any given language function semantically. The belief appears in the Upanishads, and is examined by Plato in his Cratylus.
In the 19th century, Wilhelm von Humboldt (Uber die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einflus auf die geistige Entwicklung des Menschengeschlechts; 1836) made the first scientific steps toward establishing connections between sounds and ideas. The study of phonosemantics has been furthered more recently by scholars such as Roger Wescott, (Sound and Sense; Jupiter Press, 1980), Richard R. Rhodes and John M. Lawler ("Athematic Metaphors," Papers from the 17th Regional Meeting, Chicago Linguistic Society : 318-342), Robin Allott (1995: "Sound Symbolism," in Language in the Wurm Glaciation, edited by Udo L. Figge, 15-38. Bochum: Brockmeyer), and Margaret Magnus (Gods of the Word; Truman State University, 1999).
Those interested in the question of how phonosemantics got diverted from the mainstream of professional linguistics can find Allott's article reprinted
For the phonosemantics of sample terms in proto-Chinese,
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