SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Current Issues in Phonology

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2


Intermediate Phonology

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

In this course, we will be investigating the role of iconicity in phonology. Grounded within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics, iconicity has received marginal status in theoretical linguistics. Concentrating on sound symbolism (phonosymbolism) including ideophones and sound symbolic processes in Asian and African languages, the course seeks to investigate the three common strategies languages utilise; use of reduplication; marked use of segments that are otherwise uncommon; and the association of certain types of segments and suprasegmentals with certain semantic realms.

Experimental studies and linguistic data is presented to critically review areas such as gemination as reduplication, segmental length and plurality, universal tendencies, Semitic root incompatibility and the OCP, along with considerations on iconicity and the implications for Generative Phonology.  

The course aims to:
  • Provide an overview of the role of iconicity in phonology
  • Present the contrast between Generative and Cognitive Phonology
  • Introduce the pertinent areas of iconicity in current research
  • Provide opportunity to analyse phonological data within a Cognitive Phonology framework
  • Present the phonological data to exemplify the areas discussed
  • Allow students to develop awareness of non-standard theories
  • Give students the ability to analyse data, discuss issues, deepen their knowledge of linguistic data, formulate their own analyses, critique proposals, and to present their own insights.
Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course, students should be able to:

  • Formulate the position of the main theoretical tenets of Cognitive Linguistics
  • Identify the role of sound symbolism across languages
  • Ability to theorize on the principles underlying iconicity
  • Identify and assess the main theoretical approaches
  • Broaden their view of linguistics outside of a Generative approach
  • Produce evidence of analytical ability, critical discussion and experimental formulism
Transferable skills

The following transferable skills will be assessed:

  • Independent and analytical thought
  • Processes of logical reasoning and abstract representation
  • High levels of literacy
  • Problem analysis and problem solving

In addition, the course will exercise transferable skills in:

  • The ability to manage one’s own learning
  • The ability to work independently
  • The ability to work in groups


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Method of assessment

The course is assessed by two x 2,500 word essays. The first essay is due the week following reading week. The second essay is due week 1, term 3.

Suggested reading

The core texts for this course are:

  • Bauer, Laurie (1996) ‘No Phonetic Iconicity.’ Studia Linguistica 50, pp. 189-206
  • Bohas, Georges (2006) ‘The Organisation of the Lexicon in Arabic and Other Semitic Languages,’ Perspectives in Arabic Linguistics XVI, pp. 1-37
  • Childs, G. Tucker (1994) in Hinton, Nichols & Ohala, pp. 178-204
  • Diffloth, Gérard (1994) ‘i: big, a: small,’ in Leanne Hinton, Johanna Nichols & John J Ohala (eds.)  Sound Symbolism. Cambridge: CUP, pp. 107-114
  • Durand, Jacques & Bernard Laks (2002) ‘ Phonology, Phonetics and Cognition,’ in Jacques Durand & Bernard Laks (eds) Phonetics, Phonology and Cognition (Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics) Oxford: OUP, pp. 10-50
  • Geeraerts, Dirk and Hubert Cuyckens (eds) (2007) The Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics Oxford: OUP, Chapters 1, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 49.
  • Greenberg, Joseph H. (1991) ‘The Semitic Intensive as Verbal Plurality,’ in Alan S. Kaye (Ed.) Semitic Studies in honor of Wolf Leslau on the Occasion of his 85th Birthday, Nov 14th 1991, Vol. 1. Weisbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, pp. 577-587
  • Haiman, John (1980) ‘The Iconicity of Grammar: Isomorphism and Motivation.’ Language 56:3 pp. 515-540
  • Hinton, Leanne, Johanna Nichols & John J Ohala (eds) (1994) Sound Symbolism. Cambridge: CUP
  • Jakobson, Roman and Linda R. Waugh (1979) The Sounds of Language. Harvester Press
  • Kawahara, Shigeto., Kazuko Shinohara & Yumi Uchimoto ‘A Positional Effect in Sound Symbolism: An experimental study.’ Ms.
  • Kouwenberg, N J C (2005) Gemination in the Akkadian Verb. Van Gorcum, Chapter 2
  • Miall, David (2001) ‘Sounds of Contrast: An Empirical Approach to Phoneme Iconicity,’ Poetics 29:1, pp. 55-70
  • Newmeyer, Frederick J. (1992) ‘Iconicity and Generative Grammar.’ Language 68:4 pp. 756-796
  • Nuckolls, Janis B. (1999) ‘The Case for Sound Symbolism,’ Annual Review of Anthropology 28, pp. 225-252
  • Ramachandran, V.S. and Hubbard, E.M. (2001) Synaesthesia: A window into perception, thought and language, Journal of Consciousness Studies: 8, pp.3–34
  • Ultan, Russell (1978) ‘Size-Sound Symbolism,’ in Joseph H Greenberg (ed.) Universals of Human Language Vol. 2, Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 525-570
  • Voeltz, Friedrich K. Erhard, and Christa Kilian-Hatz (eds)(2001) Ideophones. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins


Other texts will be made available on BLE, but you can also access these online bibliographies which give full references for iconicity in language:

A further informative website of ideophones in African languages is from this blog:


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules