1. General Notes on Phonetic SDs. "In human speech, different sounds have different meaning. To study the coordination of certain sounds with certain meanings is to study language" - L. Bloomfield.
The assumption that isolated sounds due to their articulatory and acoustic properties may have a definite aesthetic appeal, awake certain ideas, perceptions, feelings, images, vague though they might be is the basis of the theory of sound symbolism.
The way a word, a phrase or a sentence sounds plays an important role in a certain type of communication. The sound of most words taken separately will have little or no aesthetic value. It is in combination with other words that a word may acquire a desired phonetic effect. The way a separate word sounds may produce a certain euphonic effect, but this is a matter of individual perception and feeling and therefore subjective.
In poetry we can't avoid the feeling that the arrangement of sounds carries a definite aesthetic function.
2. Phonetic SDs. Phonetic SDsperform a musical function. They include:onomatopoea, alliteration, assonance, euphony, paronomasia, rhyme, rhythm.
A. Onomatopoeais imitation of sounds produced in nature (wind, sea, thunder, etc.), by things (machines, tools, etc.), by people (singing, laughter), by animals.
Imitating the sounds of nature, man, inanimate objects, the acoustic form of the word foregrounds the latter, inevitably emphasizing its meaning too. Thus the phonemic structure of the word proves to be important for the creation of expressive and emotive connotations. A message, containing an onomatopoeic word is not limited to transmitting the logical information only, but also supplies the vivid portrayal of the situation described.
There are two variations of onomatopoea: direct and indirect.
Direct (explicit) one is contained in words that imitate natural sounds: roar, mew, oink-oink, ding-dong, etc. Direct onomatopoeia is limited to imitation of sounds produced naturally, e.g. Mr. Bingley, while shaving on the day after his fiftieth birthday saw his reflection & admitted his remarkable resemblance to a mouse: "Cheep-cheep!" he said to himself with a shrug. Cases of explicit onomatopoea (things like 'and the dog went bark, bark'), we can find even by such authors as Shakespeare and Eliot, not to mention Poe. These words have different degrees of imitative quality. Some of them immediately bring to mind whatever it is that produces the sound. Others require the exercise of a certain amount of imagination to decipher it. Onomatopoetic words can be used in a transferred meaning, as for instance, ding - dong, which represents the sound of bells rung continuously, may mean 1) noisy, 2) strenuously contested.
Indirect onomatopoeiais a combination of sounds which aim to make the sound of the utterance an echo of its sense (sometimes called "echo-writing"). Indirect onomatopoeia aims at producing the general effect of imitation by carefully choosing the words to create such impression.
E.g. "Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high..." (R.S. Stevenson). The repeated sounds /w/, /v/, /s/ produce the effect of wind sounds.
Indirect onomatopoeia demands some mention of what makes the sound, as rustling of curtains in the following line: And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain" (E. A. Poe), where the repetition of the sound [s] actually produces the sound of the rustling of the curtain.
In the example below the abundance of phonetic Ss, coupled with the Fs produces a distinct sensation of reptiles slithering around. As with most poetic techniques, English evidence is hard to find; however, still on the subject of snakes, here is something by D. H. Lawrence:
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of the stone trough
and rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
and where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body.
Notice that there are keywords, and these are repeated twice (or more), in this part of the poem, where the animal is actually described in its most serpentine actions, all keywords begin with an s. Turning from reptiles to insects, here is something by Carl Sandburg:
the voice of the last cricket
across the first frost...
B. Alliteration (Consonance) is the repetition of consonant sounds, but not vowels, as in assonance. It is a phonetic stylistic device which aims at imparting a melodic effect to the utterance. The essence of this device lies in the repetition of similar sounds, in particular consonant sounds, in close succession, particularly at the beginning of successive words, e.g.: The possessive instinct never stands still (J. Galsworthy) or, Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before (E. A. Poe).
Alliteration, like most phonetic expressive means, does not bear any lexical or other meaning unless we agree that a sound meaning exists as such. But even so we may not be able to specify clearly the character of this meaning, and the term will merely suggest that a certain amount of information is contained in the repetition of sounds, as is the case with the repetition of lexical units.
It is regarded as a musical accompaniment to the author's idea, supporting it with some vague emotional atmosphere which each reader interprets for himself. Thus, it can prompt the feeling of anxiety, fear, horror, anguish or all these feelings simultaneously.
Alliteration is widely used in English - more often than in other languages (Russian, for one). We can see it in poetry and prose, in titles of books, in slogans and set phrases.
Eg. of book titles: "Sense and Sensibility", "Pride and prejudice" (Jane Austin), the Last Leaf, Retrieved Reformation (O.Henry).
E.g. of set expressions: last but not least, now or never, forgive and forget, bed and breakfast, good as gold, cool as a cucumber, still as a stone, time and tide wait for no man.
It is an ancient device of English poetry. In the Old English period there were no rhymes as today. Albeit see the recurrence of the initial f, b, and st in Beowulf:
Fyrst forð çewat: flota wæs yðum
Bat under beorçe. Beornas çearwe
On stefn stiçon.
The important role of alliteration in English is partially due to the fact that words in Old English were mostly stressed on the first syllable.
Poetry abounds in some specific types of sound-instrumenting, the leading role belonging to alliteration and assonance - the repetition of similar vowels, usually in stressed syllables. They both may produce the effect of euphony (a sense of ease and comfort in pronouncing or hearing) or cacophony (a sense of strain and discomfort in pronouncing or hearing).
This term is employed to signify recurrence of stressed vowels. I.V. Arnold mentions also the term 'vocalic alliteration', although the recurring vowels only seldom occupy the initial position in the word. In her book 'Stylistics of Modern English' the scholar quotes three lines from the Raven by Edgar Allan Poe:
...Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if within the distant Aiden,
I shall clasp a sainted maiden, whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?
Assonance here consists of recurrence of the diphthong /ei/, which makes not only inner rhymes (laden- Aiden- sainted- maiden), but also occurs in the non-rhyming words: angels and name.
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in non-rhyming words as in, "some ship in distress that cannot live." The i's in those words have same vowel sounds but they do not have to rhyme. It doesn't have to rhyme and usually only the vowels rhyme. Some describe it as "getting the rhyme wrong". Assonance is more a feature of verse than prose. It is used in (mainly modern) English-language poetry, and is particularly important in Old French, Spanish and Celtic languages.
· Hear the mellow wedding bells. - Edgar Allan Poe, "The Bells"
· And murmuring of innumerable bees - Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Princess VII.203
· The crumbling thunder of seas - Robert Louis Stevenson
· A light night (This is also classified as an Oxymoron - The seemingly contradictory nature of two words)
· I'm hunched over emotions just flows over these cold shoulders are both frozen you don't know me. - Eminem.
D) Euphony is the sound arrangement of the utterance which intensifies its logical meaning. The phonetic aspect of the word corresponds to the idea expressed. If the message is pleasant & mild, the mild & pleasant sounds increase the impression, e.g. She is like a beautiful exotic flower that must be sheltered from bitter winds.
If the statement is harsh or conveys the idea of vitality, if it is energetic or tragic the phonetic aspect is expected to be in line with the idea expressed, e.g. Isabel is infinitely good for me. I admire her more than any woman I've ever known. She has a wonderful brain & she is as good as she is beautiful. I respect her energy & her ambition. She was born to make success in life. I'm entirely unworthy of her.
E) Paronomasia. Paronyms are words similar though not identical in sound, but different in meaning, e.g. raven, never. Co-occurrence of paronyms is called paronomasia. Phonetically, paronomasia produces stylistic effects analogous to those of alliteration and assonance. In addition, phonetic similarity makes the reader/listener search for semantic connection of the paronyms. This tendency of language users (both poet and reader) to establish imaginary sense correlations on the grounds of formal liking is named by some linguists 'paronymic attraction'. In the mentioned above poem by Poe the words raven and never are paronyms: and the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting.
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