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Sloppy, slab and slender: a comparative study of the phonaestheme sl- in English and Swedish


  • Christoffer Modig Forser

Summary, in English

The primary aim of this essay is to add new insight as to the productivity and universality of phonaesthemes in general, and the sl-phonaestheme in particular. The data presented in this essay is generated in two ways: lexical analyses and an experiment. The lexical analyses show that the dominant semantic features of words beginning with the cluster sl- are the same in English and Swedish, namely ‘wetness’, long thin form’ and ‘inactive or lacking energy’. The experiment targets the productivity and universality aspect of the sl-phonaestheme and is conducted by means of a questionnaire. In it, informants are asked to pair neologisms constructed from different consonant clusters with the above stated semantic features. Results from the questionnaires are based on a total of 79 respondents, 40 of them native Swedish speakers and 39 native English speakers. The data indicates that the associative status of the sl-phonaestheme is largely similar in both languages. However, in relation to productivity the generated data proved unreliable due to a faulty method of designing the questionnaire. Consequently, it can at best provide information regarding possible tendencies rather than general conclusions.
The essay also aims to test the claim that the expressiveness, or associative ability, of phonaesthemes is related to the number of words that share the same phonological material in the same position and display the same semantic affiliation. Even though the data provides no conclusive information, a number of observations are made and discussed in relation to this aspect.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • phonaesthemes
  • ideophones
  • morphology
  • phonetics
  • lexical analysis


  • Satu Manninen (Professor)