What can be made of this fact? It exists in total isolation. As far as any theory of structural linguistics is concerned it is right off the graph, and yet it persists. Old structural linguists get very angry when young structural linguists go on about it. Young structural linguists get deeply excited about it and stay up late at night convinced that they are very close to something of profound importance, and end up becoming old structural linguists before their time, getting very angry with the young ones. Structural linguistics is a bitterly divided and unhappy discipline, and a large number of its practitioners spend too many nights drowning their problems in Ouisghian Zodahs.
There are also plenty of older studies using made-up words that show that people link /i/ sounds to sharpness and /o/~/a/ sounds to roundness. (E.g. show a group of subjects a triangle and a hexagon and ask them which one they think the word 'pirl' refers to. Then show another group the same shapes but use the word 'porl' instead.)
Sound symbolism is super interesting. The Jabberwocky is a great example of how certain phonemes/syllables can affect our interpretation despite not being connected to each other in any immediately meaningful way.
Anecdotally speaking as a multilingual person, I've noticed some of the same patterns - but untested, anecdotal comments aren't worth much; I find it significant and interesting that (at least some of) these trends seem to hold across thousands of languages. This isn't my field, though - is my impression of the significance here correct?
A second question: isn't it the currently held theory in linguistics that there is more or less a single "super parent" language - which my memory of my intro to linguistics class from ten years ago identifies as Proto-Indo European - and wouldn't that common linguistic ancestor provide a plausible alternative explanation for this common sound symbolism?
A question tangentially related to the above: the sounds you mention are all vowels, which are easier for infants to make and which infants tend to learn to make first; it seems to stand to reason that sound symbolism tied to sounds made earliest by infants would be more likely to be unchanged over time. Is there anything that rules out this perspective? Building on this, I know that there are some patterns to the development of abstract reasoning in children; has there any work been done on correlating abstract reasoning development timescales with the development of phonetic production skills? Perhaps this sound symbolism has to do a parallel in the developmental timelines of these two?
This study corroborates previous findings in sound-meaning association studies, but it also gives us a whole lot of new associations ('horn' and /k/, /r/? who knew?). Further, it investigates a previously uninvestigated (as far as I know) question: are there sounds that negatively correlate with certain meanings? (And it turns out there are.)
But I do wonder how much of the similarity they're talking about here is accounted by phonoaesthetics, and how much of it might be simply due to some inevitable coincidence (like Zipf's law being applicable to gibberish texts). I mean, common concepts seem more likely to be referred to by short words, and there are only so many short words that can be formed with a given number of phonemes.
Shouldn't some repetition and similarity be expected from that alone?
The wording here is almost painful. You can't play "often" as a minimizer against "no matter the X in question" like that. It is terribly confusing and the mark of someone who wants to sound sure, isn't sure, and isn't capable of making a more nuanced statement.
[Nose in Mandarin: bí or bízi...]
Nose - hana has N in it.
Sand - suna has S.
Round - maru has R.
Most researchers believe the cognitive prerequisites for articulated speech came before and drove the emergence of the physical ability for articulated speech. But Joseph Jordania, for example, argues that speech evolved from choral singing, which arose as a defense mechanism on the savannah where groups of human ancestors would vocalize and gyrate in unison to intimidate predators. The emergence of this particular strategy explains, he argues, why our ancestors, after descending from the trees, didn't evolve more typical defense mechanisms like becoming bigger, growing thicker hides, being able to run faster, etc.
The group intimidation display selected for many things, including the ability to dance and sing in a group, because if you weren't in unison with the group, or if you tried to run away, you'd be the first to be eaten. This also explains, he argues, why people can become entranced while dancing in a group. It also, FWIW, neatly skirts the dilemma of so-called group genetic selection--the free-rider problem is taken care of by the hungry lion, and we don't require a complex, unproven fitness model for how cheating was suppressed; classic genetic models would explain how such extremely cooperative behavior could arise and persist among members not immediately related genetically (i.e. not extended family).
In that scenario the physical aspects of articulated speech could arise first, and the last piece of the cognitive puzzle could have come last, possibly long after out-of-Africa. But that last piece might have been so advantageous that it could have quickly migrated everywhere, including back into Africa.
In Jordania's model African and European populations were the last to receive articulated speech. He predicts, among other things, that polyphonic (i.e. choral, aka group) singing would be more common in European and African societies. And that articulated speech glitches, like stuttering, would be more common in Europe and Africa than in Asia, as Asian populations would have had more time to see these things suppressed in their populations.
On language: There is much to be learned from dolphins. They were just last week reported to have been seen having an actual back and forth complex conversation. Two dolphins were given a technical task to solve, and were discussing how best to do it. Pretty amazing.
There are land connections between two groups (of 3 and 2) of the inhabited continents today, and as recently as 11,000 years ago five of the six human-inhabited continents were mutually connected by land.
Um, no. Even between chimps and ourselves lies a vast gulf of unpronounceability, just due to vocal chord physics. Yet more interesting is the mapping between formants and meaning in linguistics.
As for the Vietnamese roots, I thought it might have been a French loanword but it looks like it came from a proto-vietnamese language:
I'm wonder if it might be shared with the other languages, that cows and sheep share the name of the dwelling because they are part of it?
Looking further at the etymology of (Swedish) "bo", it seems it comes from the Proto-Indo European "bhuh", to become, to grow into being, sharing the same etymology as English' "be". In Swedish, "bo" is also a verb meaning "to live (some place)", e.g. "I live here": "jag bor här".
Edit: Actually, "be" has a mixed history it seems. Indeed it is mixed with "to reside". See here for more etymology: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/be#Etymology
Edit II: After a bit more of Wiktionary, "bo" has the exact same meaning as in Swedish in Cuiba, a language with less than 3000 speakers in Colombia and Venezuela. Wow!
When it comes to the cows though, my original research might have been misguided. Looking at the etymology for Latin "bos", it comes from a different Indo European root:
A few onomatopoeia have also evolved into nouns, such as vov (wuf) is the basis for vovse (informal for dog)
The progression of sounds that a baby learns is well understood, especially the physiological aspects of language development and acquisition.
If we accept as a premise that cultures would tend to assign words most relevant to babies according to their physiological capability, then it becomes obvious why words for mother, father, and even facial features would be strongly similar across cultures. And why the similarity will slowly diminish as the meaning of words becomes less important, functionally, for communication with a child.
And especially for simple words the phonetics would have very little to do with cognitive development (and evolutionarily-dictated language models), but be controlled almost entirely by a baby's physical constraints--e.g. huge tongue in a tiny mouth, poor motor control, etc.
There are also cognitive development constraints, of course.
The question is, from where do we get the correlation? If it's physiological or neurological, then there's nothing to support fanciful claims of innate language models. It's the cognitive constraints that can support fanciful claims, but you have to first show that it's those constraints, rather than the physiological or neurological constraints, that are controlling word choice.
For everything else, not so much.
And especially considering that the researchers "reduced all sounds to 34 distinct consonants and 7 vowels." (Consider that the more we reduce and simplify the vocalizations the more likely we should expect correlations. For example, if we simplified all sounds to grunts we should expect tremendous overlap.)
The correlation of the corpus of 100 words isn't particularly surprising given what we already know about language development. The null hypothesis was that there'd be no correlation whatsoever (i.e. the sounds would be completely random), which I don't think anybody could reasonably expect.
Arabic: ami, ab
Chinese: ma, ba
Zulu: umama, ubaba
It's "obaasaan" in Japanese, though. It'd become "baa" if you remove the polite syllables, and thus also ends up becoming a labial consonant (ओष्ट्य for those familiar with the verse in पाणिनी).