, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1–27 | Cite as

Phonaesthemes in morphological theory

  • Nahyun Kwon
  • Erich R. Round


Debate over whether phonaesthemes are part of morphology has been long and inconclusive. We contend that this is because the properties that characterise individual phonaesthemes and those that characterise individual morphological units are neither sufficiently disjunct nor sufficiently overlapping to furnish a clear answer, unless resort is made to relatively aprioristic exclusions from the set of ‘relevant’ data, in which case the answers follow directly and uninterestingly from initial assumptions. In response, we pose the question: ‘According to what criteria, if any, do phonaesthemes distinguish themselves from non-phonaesthemic, stem-building elements?’, and apply the methods of Canonical Typology to seek answers. Surveying the literature, we formulate seven canonical criteria, identifying individual phonaesthemes which are more, or less, canonical according to each. We next apply the same criteria to assess non-phonaesthemic stem-building elements. The result is that just one criterion emerges which clearly differentiates the two sets of phenomena, namely the canonical accompaniment of phonaesthemes by non-recurrent residues, and this finding is not predetermined by our assumptions. From the viewpoint of morphological theory more broadly, we assume that any viable theory must find a place for lexical stems which are composed of a recurring, sound-meaning pairing plus a non-recurrent residue. Most phonaesthemes will occur in such stems. Consequently, theoretically interesting questions can then be asked about this entire class of lexical stems, including but not limited to its phonaesthemic members. Whether they are ‘part of morphology’ or not, phonaesthemes can contribute coherently to the development of morphological theory.


Phonaestheme Morphology Canonical Typology Lexical stem Derivation 



The authors wish to extend sincere thanks to Grev Corbett and Mark Dingemanse and the editor and two anonymous reviewers at Morphology for their helpful suggestions and comments, from which the manuscript has benefited extensively. All errors and omissions remain ours. N. Kwon gratefully acknowledges the financial support of a University of Queensland Graduate School International Travel Award. E. Round acknowledges the financial support of a University of Queensland Faculty Fellowship in 2014; the support of the fellowship host, the Centre for Critical Cultural Studies, which provided an ideal environment for advancing the research; and the Surrey Morphology Group which hosted a very productive period of research in January 2014.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Languages and Comparative Cultural StudiesUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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