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Phonaesthetics (also spelled phonesthetics in
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...
) is the study of beauty and pleasantness associated with the sounds of certain words or parts of words. The term was first used in this sense, perhaps by J. R. R. Tolkien, during the mid-twentieth century and derives from the
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
(''phōnḗ'', "voice" or "sound") plus (''aisthētikḗ'', "
aesthetics Aesthetics, or esthetics (), is a branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of m ...

aesthetics
"). Speech sounds have many aesthetic qualities, some of which are subjectively regarded as euphonious (pleasing) or cacophonous (displeasing). Phonaesthetics remains a budding and often subjective field of study, with no scientifically or otherwise formally established definition; today, it mostly exists as a marginal branch of
psychology Psychology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. ...

psychology
,
phonetics Phonetics is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lang ...

phonetics
, or
poetics Poetics is the theory of literary forms and literary discourse Discourse is a generalization of the notion of a conversation Conversation is interactive communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is th ...

poetics
. More broadly, British linguist
David Crystal David Crystal, (born 6 July 1941) is a British , academic, and author. Family Crystal was born in , Northern Ireland, on 6 July 1941 after his mother had been . Before he reached the age of one, his parents separated. He remained estranged fr ...

David Crystal
has regarded phonaesthetics as the study of "phonaesthesia" (i.e.,
sound symbolism In linguistics, sound symbolism is the resemblance between sound and meaning. It is a form of iconicity, linguistic iconicity. History Plato and the Cratylus Dialogue In ''Cratylus (dialogue), Cratylus'', Plato has Socrates commenting on the ori ...
and phonesthemes): that not just words but even certain sound combinations carry meaning. For example, he shows that English speakers tend to associate unpleasantness with the sound ''sl-'' in such words as ''sleazy'', ''slime'', ''slug'', and ''slush'', or they associate repetition lacking any particular shape with in such words as ''chatter'', ''glitter'', ''flutter'', and ''shatter''.


Euphony and cacophony

Euphony is the effect of sounds being perceived as pleasant, rhythmical, lyrical, or harmonious. Cacophony is the effect of sounds being perceived as harsh, unpleasant, chaotic, and often discordant; these sounds are perhaps meaningless and jumbled together. Compare with
consonance and dissonance In music, consonance and dissonance are categorizations of simultaneous or successive sounds. Within the Western tradition, some listeners associate consonance with sweetness, pleasantness, and acceptability, and dissonance with harshness, unple ...
in music. In poetry, for example, euphony may be used deliberately to convey comfort, peace, or serenity, while cacophony may be used to convey discomfort, pain, or disorder. This is often furthered by the combined effect of the meaning beyond just the sounds themselves. The California Federation of
Chaparral Chaparral ( ) is a shrubland Shrubland, scrubland, scrub, brush, or bush is a plant community characterized by vegetation dominance (ecology), dominated by shrubs, often also including grasses, Herbaceous plant, herbs, and geophytes. Shrublan ...

Chaparral
Poets, Inc. uses
Emily Dickinson Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. Little-known during her life, she has since been regarded as one of the most important figures in . Dickinson was born in , into a prominent family with ...
's "A Bird Came Down the Walk" as an example of euphonious poetry, one passage being "...Oars divide the Ocean, / Too silver for a seam" and
John Updike John Hoyer Updike (March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009) was an American novelist, poet, short-story writer, art critic An art critic is a person who is specialized in analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating art. Their written critiques or reviews ...
's "Player Piano" as an example of cacophonous poetry, one passage being "My stick fingers click with a snicker / And, chuckling, they knuckle the keys".


Research

David Crystal David Crystal, (born 6 July 1941) is a British , academic, and author. Family Crystal was born in , Northern Ireland, on 6 July 1941 after his mother had been . Before he reached the age of one, his parents separated. He remained estranged fr ...

David Crystal
's 1995 paper "Phonaesthetically Speaking" explores lists, created by reader polls and individual writers, of English words that are commonly regarded as sounding beautiful, to search for any patterns within the words' phonetics. Frequently recurring example words in these lists include ''gossamer'', ''melody'', and ''tranquil''. Crystal's finding, assuming a
British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people The British people, or Britons, are the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ir ...
Received Pronunciation Received Pronunciation (often abbreviated as RP) is the accentAccent may refer to: Speech and language * Accent (sociolinguistics), way of pronunciation particular to a speaker or group of speakers * Accent (phonetics), prominence given to ...
accent, is that words perceived as pretty tend to have a majority of a wide array of criteria; here are some major ones: *Three or more syllables (e.g., ''goss·a·mer'' and ''mel·o·dy'') *Stress on the first syllable (e.g., ''góssamer'' and ''mélody'') * is the most common consonant
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
, followed by , then a huge drop-off before other consonants (e.g., ''luminous'' contains the first four) *Short vowels (e.g., the
schwa In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as t ...
, followed in order by the vowels in ''lid'', ''led'', and ''lad'') are favored over long vowels and diphthongs (e.g., as in ''lied'', ''load'', ''loud'') *Three or more manners of articulation (with
approximant consonant Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough nor with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives Fricatives are cons ...
s the most common, followed by
stop consonant In phonetics Phonetics is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of ev ...
s, and so on) A perfect example word, according to these findings, is ''tremulous''. Crystal also suggests the invented words and , which he notes are similar to the types of names often employed in the marketing of pharmaceutical drugs.


''Cellar door''

The
English compound A compound Compound may refer to: Architecture and built environments * Compound (enclosure), a cluster of buildings having a shared purpose, usually inside a fence or wall ** Compound (fortification), a version of the above fortified with def ...
noun A noun () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many l ...

noun
''cellar door'' has been widely cited as an example of a word or phrase that is beautiful purely in terms of its sound (i.e., euphony) without inherent regard for its
meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * Meaning (non-linguistic), a general ter ...
. The phenomenon of ''cellar door'' being regarded as euphonious appears to have begun in the very early twentieth century, first attested in the 1903 novel ''Gee-Boy'' by the
Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national p ...

Shakespeare
scholar Cyrus Lauron Hooper. It has been promoted as beautiful-sounding by various writers; linguist Geoffrey Nunberg specifically names the writers
H. L. Mencken Henry Louis Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist, essayist An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own argument, but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a L ...
in 1920;
David Allan RobertsonDavid Allan Robertson (October 17, 1880 – July 15, 1961) was an American academic who served as the 5th president of Goucher College Goucher College ( ') is a private liberal arts college in Towson, Maryland. It was chartered in 1885 followi ...
in 1921;
Dorothy Parker Dorothy Parker (née Rothschild; August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist This is an incomplete list of writers, cartoonists and others known for involvement in satire Satire is a genre of the ...

Dorothy Parker
,
Hendrik Willem van Loon Hendrik Willem van Loon (January 14, 1882 – March 11, 1944) was a Dutch-American Dutch Americans ( Dutch: ''Nederlandse Amerikanen''), not to be confused with the Pennsylvania Dutch The Pennsylvania Dutch (''Pennsilfaanisch-Deitsch''), also ...
, and
Albert Payson Terhune Albert Payson Terhune (December 21, 1872 – February 18, 1942) was an American author, dog breeder, and journalist. He was popular for his novels relating the adventures of his beloved collies and as a breeder of collies at his Sunnybank Kennels ...

Albert Payson Terhune
in the 1930s;
George Jean Nathan George Jean Nathan (February 14, 1882 – April 8, 1958) was an American drama critic and magazine editor. He worked closely with H. L. Mencken, bringing the literary magazine ''The Smart Set'' to prominence as an editor, and co-founding and ...
in 1935; J. R. R. Tolkien in a lecture, "
English and Welsh "English and Welsh" is J. R. R. Tolkien's inaugural O'Donnell Memorial Lecture of October 21, 1955. The lecture sheds light on Tolkien's conceptions of the connections of race, ethnicity An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who ...
", delivered in 1955 (in which he described his reverence for the
Welsh language Welsh ( or ) is a Brittonic language of the Celtic language family The Celtic languages ( , ) are a group of related languages descended from Proto-Celtic. They form a branch of the Indo-European language family. The term "Celtic" ...
and about which he said "''cellar doors'' .e. such beautiful wordsare extraordinarily frequent"); and C. S. Lewis in 1963. Furthermore, the phenomenon itself is touched upon in many sources and media, including a 1905 issue of ''
Harper's Magazine ''Harper's Magazine'' is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts. Launched in New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from , or NYC for short, is the in the United States. W ...
'' by
William Dean Howells William Dean Howells (; March 1, 1837 – May 11, 1920) was an American realist novelist, literary critic, and playwright A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes plays. Etymology The word "play" is from Middle English pleye, from Ol ...

William Dean Howells
, the 1967 novel '' Why Are We in Vietnam?'' by
Norman Mailer Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007) was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, activist, film-maker and actor. In a career spanning over six decades, Mailer had 11 best-selling books, at least one in ...
, a 1991 essay by
Jacques Barzun Jacques Martin Barzun (; November 30, 1907 – October 25, 2012) was a French-American historian known for his studies of the history of ideas Intellectual history (also the history of ideas) is the study of the history of human thought and of in ...
, the 2001
psychological drama In literature, psychological fiction (also psychological realism) is a narrative genre that emphasizes interior characterization Characterization or characterisation is the representation of persons (or other beings or creatures) in narrative and ...
film ''
Donnie Darko ''Donnie Darko'' is a 2001 American science fiction File:Imagination 195808.jpg, Space exploration, as predicted in August 1958 in the science fiction magazine ''Imagination (magazine), Imagination.'' Science fiction (sometimes shortened to s ...
'', and a scene in the 2019 movie ''Tolkien''. The origin of ''cellar door'' being considered as an inherently beautiful or musical phrase is mysterious. However, in 2014, Nunberg speculated that the phenomenon might have arisen from Philip Wingate and Henry W. Petrie's 1894 hit song "I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard", which contains the lyric "You'll be sorry when you see me sliding down our cellar door." Following the song's success, "slide down my cellar door" became a popular catchphrase up until the 1930s or 1940s to mean engaging in a type of friendship or
camaraderie The term ''comrade'' is used to mean 'mate', 'colleague', or 'ally', and derives from the Spanish term , literally meaning 'chamber mate', from Latin , meaning 'chamber' or 'room'. Political use of the term was inspired by the French Revolution ...
reminiscent of childhood innocence. A 1914 essay about
Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and ...

Edgar Allan Poe
's choice of the word "Nevermore" in his 1845 poem "
The Raven "The Raven" is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe (; born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary criticism, literary critic. Poe is best know ...

The Raven
" as being based on euphony may have spawned an unverified legend, propagated by syndicated columnists like Frank Colby in 1949 and L. M. Boyd in 1979, that ''cellar door'' was Poe's favorite phrase. Tolkien, Lewis, and others have suggested that ''cellar doors auditory beauty becomes more apparent the more the word is dissociated from its literal meaning, for example, by using alternative spellings such as ''Selador'', ''Selladore'', ''
Celador Celador is a British entertainment company originally formed in the United Kingdom in 1981 as an independent television production company. It created and produced a number of popular light entertainment shows and is best known for the TV format '' ...

Celador
'', ''Selidor'' (an island name in Ursula K. LeGuin's
Earthsea The Earthsea Cycle, also known simply as Earthsea, is a series of high fantasy books written by the American writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Beginning with ''A Wizard of Earthsea'' (1968), ''The Tombs of Atuan'', (1970) and ''The Farthest Shore'' (197 ...
), or ''Salidar'' (
Robert Jordan James Oliver Rigney Jr. (October 17, 1948 – September 16, 2007), better known by his pen name A pen name, also called a ''nom de plume'' () or a literary double, is a pseudonym A pseudonym () (originally: ψευδώνυμος in Greek) or ...

Robert Jordan
's
Wheel of Time The Wheel of time or wheel of history (also known as '' Kalachakra'') is a concept found in several religious traditions and philosophies, notably religions of Indian origin such as Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religion and ''dharma'' ...

Wheel of Time
series) which take on the quality of an enchanting name (and both of which suggest a specifically standard British
pronunciation Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful d ...
of the word: ), which is homophonous with "sell a ."


See also

*
Affection (linguistics) Affection (also known as vowel affection, infection or vowel mutation), in the linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...
*
Assimilation (linguistics) Assimilation is a sound change in which some phonemes (typically consonants In articulatory phonetics The field of articulatory phonetics is a subfield of phonetics that studies articulation and ways that humans produce speech. Articulat ...
*
Dissimilation In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound system of any particular language variety. At one t ...
*
Epenthesis In phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound system of any particular language variety. At one t ...
* Inherently funny word *
Japanese sound symbolism Japanese has a large inventory of sound symbolic or mimetic words, known in linguistics as ideophone Ideophones are words that evoke an idea in sound, often a vivid impression of certain sensations or sensory perceptions, e.g. sound (onomatop ...
*
Onomatopoeia Onomatopoeia (also onomatopeia in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Cu ...

Onomatopoeia
* Phonestheme * Phonosemantics *
Sandhi Sandhi ( sa, सन्धि ' , "joining") is a cover term for a wide variety of sound In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion an ...
("euphonic" rules in Sanskrit grammar) * Vogon poetry *
Vowel harmony In phonology Phonology is a branch of that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or constituent parts of signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound or sign system of any particular lang ...


Notes


References

{{reflist Linguistics Phonology Phonotactics