Saturday, 6 January 2007

From "The Effects of Local Phonetic Contrasts in Readers' Responses to a Short Story"

By David S. Miall and Don Kuiken.

The sound of the language in a literary text is often thought to contribute to its meaning. We hypothesize that this is due not to fixed or universal phoneme properties, as theories of phonetic symbolism have supposed, but to the use of local phonetic contrasts to elicit meaning. Writers may set an overall range of phonetic tones that are distinctive to a particular text and then introduce significant variations to achieve local effects. In the present study, an analysis of phoneme distributions developed by Miall (2001) and an approach to phonetic symbolism developed by Whissell (1999, 2000a, 2000b) were applied to a Katherine Mansfield short story. Readers' responses to the story were obtained using Semantic Differential ratings. The findings show the influence of phonetic patterns consistent with the hypothesis that phonemic contrasts elicit local changes in feeling tone. The effects of phonetic symbolism, while evident, were much less pronounced.

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