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What's new on the relationship between sound and meaning? How do people do bells and wipers in sound design systems? What are parents' favourite sound signs? Find out about this and more on the European Day of Languages, September 26. We celebrate the wonders of language with new research, language cake and best sound shaping tips from linguists Johanna Schelhaas and Pétur Helgason. 

Picture of linguists Pétur Helgason and Johanna Schelhaas
Linguists Pétur Helgason and Johanna Schelhaas.


Consider the words ‘tree’ and ‘meow’. For 'tree', like for most words, there is no obvious connection between the spoken word and its meaning - the connection between meaning and sound is arbitrary. The German word for tree is ‘Baum’, in Finnish we call it ‘puu’ and in Japanese ‘tree' is ‘ki’. None of these words are more tree-y than the others.


For 'meow', on the other hand, it is evident that the word imitates what a cat sounds like and this holds for many different languages. In German it is 'miau', in Finnish it is 'miau' as well, in Japanese it is 'nja', 'mjau' in Malayalam and 'meo' in Vietnamese. These similarities are no coincidence. The word for the sound that a cat makes tends to be iconic, i.e. the meaning and the form of the word are connected.


In this talk, we explain the concept of different kinds of iconicity in language with examples from the worlds' languages and our recent research studies. One study focussed on parents' usage of iconic words/expressions in Swedish to young children, with the aim of learning more about the possible effects of the use of iconicity on language acquisition. The other focussed on articulatory and gestural strategies in imitating sounds for a sound design sketching system, which gave new insights on the spontateous use of human voice as an instrument.


The European Day of Languages

The Council of Europe 'European Day of Languages' celebrates linguistic diversity and promotes plurilingualism since 2001. It is coordinated by the European Centre for Modern Languages of the Council of Europe.

European Day of Languages official banner


Sign up if you´d like language cake

The event is open for all SU students and staff. Please sign up to by September 24 if you´d like cake, so we can make it big enough. 😊