Vol. 61 No. 4 (2013)
Research Article

Phonetic Metaphor and the Limits of Sound Symbolism

Published 2013-12-01


  • authors,
  • affiliation,
  • prosody,
  • diversity



Evocative as it is elusive, the sound-symbolism of names tends to be a highly subjective affair, more the stuff of poetic fancy than objective critical analysis. Literary criticism, however, demands a rigorous and more objective approach, which is precisely what the ideas of Gérard Genette and Ivan Fónagy can provide. Where the former explores the limits of sound symbolism, the latter gives a cogent explanation for how, within those limits, this linguistic phenomenon actually works thanks to what he calls phonetic metaphor. In addition to elaborating a concrete framework in which to study the relations between sound and sense in literary onomastics, Fónagy’s ideas open up new vistas for exploring the relationships between names, gender, affect and the body. Names in the fantasy novels of Ursula K. Le Guin illustrate the explanatory power of phonetic metaphor as a critical concept in onomastics.


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