The Terms and Concepts Related to the Phono semantics of the Kartvelian languages

Georgian linguistic literature connected with phono semantics, namely the differential signs indicating connection, shows a diversity of concepts related to this linguistic phenomenon due to different approaches as well as methodological aspects of the research. The widespread composite term "echoism"/“onomatopoeia” is the analogy of the Greek “onomatopoeia”. According to the definition,


“Onomatopoeia is an approximate convey of sound, accompanying a number of sounds in nature or living creatures (screams, whistles, etc.) Based on this, several kinds of words can be distinguished according to their forms and functions:

  1. 1.     Onomatopoeia itself, i.e. changeless in form, approximate convey of the complex of sounds (not indication): for example, cock-a-doodle-doo; cuckoo; clack
  2. 2.     Based on onomatopoeia form-changing words denoting this or that sounds: for example, hissing, burning, laughing.
  3. 3.     Based on onomatopoeia events and creatures (and not their sounds) designating form-changing words: for example, cuckoo, dragonfly, flapper” [GSE 1981:536]


If we review the earlier sources, Sulkhan-Saba uses the term “Khmianoba” (Sounding) for the words generated from the imitation of the sound; Akaki Shanidze also calls them “words denoting sounds” [Shanidze, 1973: 564-565]. It is noteworthy that after some period, this term narrowed down, and it was just marked an expression of sound (without movement) and by this, it separated from other types of terminological vocabulary, which along with sounds have other semantic features as well; At the same time, along with “Khmianoba” (Sounding), we come across the term “proper onomatopoeia”, and the encyclopedic definition serves as a proof of this as well.

These terms are not  in Giorgi Akhvlediani’s works, but in his monograph the scholar analyzed the phono semantic material obtained from two vocabularies (Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani’s “Sitkvis Kona” (Bunch of words) and David Chubinashvili’s "Georgian-Russian Dictionary"), which phonemic structure CS + VVC- (11 units: zrial-, srial-, zhrial-, shrial-, chrial-, tsrial-, grial-, krial-, ghrial-, khrial-, qrial-), C1V1C1V1+C (where C1=C1; V1=V1) (15 various units sounding options: zizin-, sisin-, zhizhin-, shishin-, ghighin- / ghughun-, khikhin-, khikhin- / khukhun-, tsitsin-, chichin- / chachan-, kakan- / kikin-, qaqan-), CVC+VC (6 units: kivil-, tsivil-, sivil-, qivil-, tsivil-, khivil-) and for naming the phono and semantic differential signs of a connection uses the phrase "non-equal functional varieties of semantics," [Akhvlediani, 1949: 245]. Giorgi Akhvlediani tried to seek varieties in "the range of soundings", since he considered these units to be coming from one another; Giorgi Akhvlediani believed that they were created through the affricative-fricative ways. In his view chink is realized through two ways: 1. Sibilant series: kriali> tsriali> sriali> zriali; 2. hushing sound series: kriali> chriali> sriali> zhriali. After a thorough analysis, he concluded that in the stems of the above mentioned,


"The Changing of sounds is not generated positional... an anchor point that "dictates" to the differentiation process of the language... It is purely a mechanical phonetic sense. In this case, the leading way is the opinion and not physiology" [Akhvlediani 1949:297]


Hence, Giorgi Akhvlediani came to the conclusion, that sounds have a semantic and not phonetic basis, which means that it does not depend on semantics; therefore, turns do not create phonetic variants, but also form new bases of different importance. Thus, the conclusion that the scholar came to was, that the essence of phono semantics, marks the connection between phonemic and semantic signs.

In the onomatopoeia lexis Ali Davitiani as a separate type outlines the “outer species” or “specific” vocabulary, which brings together typical roots characteristic to the Svan language, which are important in terms that include physiognomic features. As the author notes:


"Words with changing sound on the one hand is connected with the movement-actions and in the second case (the same onomatopoeia) in certain circumstances, show the object or event from outside", adding that " onomatopoeia speech pattern applies to the imagery words" [Davitiani, 2008: 315]


Presumably, the author indicates that onomatopoeia and "imagery" roots have one and the same morphological mould, which, in fact, is in accordance with the conclusion seen in the Georgian Linguistic Literature [see Melikishvili, 1999].

Togo Gudava suggests the term "Bgertsera" (writing of the sounds) and uses it in a narrow sense:


"There is a series of onomatopoeia in the Megrelian language, which in addition to its basic meaning outlines action as well, the subject’s size, weight, density, etc. The feature of expression lays in confrontation of the sonorous, breathy, sharp consonants each other. Such onomatopoeia can be termed as "Bgertsera" (writing of the sounds)” [Gudava, 1958: 15]


In T. Gudava’s thesis "onomatopoeia" is used in a broad sense to cover all cases, which are available in phono semantic. It should be noted that T. Gudava’s "Bgertsera" (writing of the sounds) perfectly matched the conceptual system and firmly established itself not only linguistic, but also in literary and musicology scientific texts. Linguistically, it is the equal to the terms like "phono semantics" and "phonetic (sound) symbolism"[1], but is well-separated from onomatopoeia, as the Georgian Language Encyclopaedia defines it:


"Unlike onomatopoeia "Bgertsera" (writing of the sounds) is such form of synaesthesia that reflects the non-sounding qualities of the subject - shape, size, strength, movement, human or animal physiological characteristics of the situation ...features" [GE, 2008: 78]


"Proper Onomatopoeia" has seen introduced to designate sound, "Normally, semantics of such words, first of all is proper onomatopoeia, i.e. depicts the sounds that we hear around us (be it human beings and their accompanying sounds, noise of the nature or other)” [Kobalava, 1979: 107], but it is different from the type of stems showing action and conditions, which are the main importance of the other semantic features contained in the stems, that


"Express the actions and the conditions characteristic of a particular form, the appearance of the subject, the spiritual mood, the nature of the events, and so on." [Kobalava, 1979: 107; 1980: 67].


Therefore, a number of authors (T. Gudava, A. Davitiani, I. Kobalava, N. Kiziria) according to certain criteria clearly distinguishes Onomatopoeia from "Bgertsera" (writing of the sounds):


“Onomatopoeia confirmed by the words, where any complex of sounds is similar to sound or noise that comes in agreement with the formal part of the language. Along with onomatopoeia words in every single language we come across with "Bgertsera" (writing of the sounds), where one or more sound with its non-sounding character complies with the object or event” [Kiziria, 2003: 27]


In Scientific literature "Bgertsera" co-exists alongside with other terms; noteworthy is to mention several of them: “Onomatopoeia”/ “Onomatopoeia words" (A. Shanidze, B. Pochkhua, I Kobalava, V. Tofuria, L. Sanikidze, Sh. Apridonidze, O. Gachechiladze , L. Nadareishvili), "Sound symbolism" (R. Asatiani), “Expressive” (D. Anne Holisky), "Phono semantics" (I. Melikishvili, T. Akhvlediani, M. Kintsurashvili), "Primary Masdars" (A. Chikobava), "Intensives" (Sh. Apridonidze)[2].

Dee Ann Holisky is interested in the issue of the relationship between expressive verbs and symbolism of sounds. Since it is considered more convenient to determine phoneme symbols in expressive [Diffloth, 1973; Jonson, 1976], therefore the scholar discusses the sound symbolism within Phono semantic models.

In Sound symbolism she does not mean “Bgertsera”, i.e. replica of external events speech sounds, but she is interested in the phonological features of the system in use in some semantic expressions. It focuses on the symbolic value of the sound frequencies without extra linguistic directions. As she notes, such systems are not inside any phonological characteristics, but logically they handle certain semantic information [Holisky, 1981; 1988 A, B].

To sum up I. Melikishvili’s conclusion seems rather interesting, in which he lays out the analysis of terms and concepts related to the language.

Although that Bgertsera, Sound symbolism is "a replica of the speech sounds of external events " [Holisky 1981; 1988 A, B] and  Onomatopoeia is "the inward reflection of a thing’s properties" (V. Humboldt), " a fine line between them is not possible to be drawn from either semantic or functional point of view," [str, 1999: 79], because


  1. 1.     The Bgertseriti character of Onomatopoeia is more evident" [Melikishvili 1999: 78];
  2. 2.     Onomatopoeia vocabulary words and sound symbols belonging to the same form of phoneme structural models;
  3. Onomatopoeia words at the same time reflect the movement, whose results they are. It is difficult to distinguish imitation of sound from imitating movement. Onomatopoeia vocabulary reflects the emotion that accompanies the sound [Melikishvili 1999: 78];


Arnold Chikobava’s term "Primary Masdars" is based on grammatical detail of the Onomatopoeia words, in particular, issues connected with masdars and the verb stem. The names serve as a basis of the verb and not vice versa, as is usually the case, when a masdar verb is being produced. "Therefore masdari and a name that comes from a verb, turns out to be one and the same”: griali-grialebs-griali; chikhvini-chikhvinebs-chikhvini…  


"This is because the names already have the meaning for which depiction the masdari is being produced: griali-i, gugun-i, titin-i, kankal-i and similar names are primary names to denote condition-action " [Chikobava, 1942: 219]


The term phono semantics is relatively new in Georgian linguistic reality; I. Melikishvili in his publication, mentioned this term for first time and, wrote: "Differential relationship between the phonemic and semantic signs we call semantic links" [Melikishvili 1999: 80]. The scholar introduces the term phono semantics instead of Bgertsera and explains the recently established trend, which is associated with the frequent use of this term by linguists; Russian scientist V. Voronin and his monograph is mentioned in this respect.

In general, the term "phono semantics" for the first time was published in 1936 by the French scholar Paul Pelliot in his article [Pelliot, 1936: 163]. However, as a direction, it is relatively new; the 70-ies shows the appearance of articles associated with this issue.


"Sound expressive language (sound and sound symbolism) system holds the necessary material, main and phonetically motivated understanding between word phonemes and meaning; that are the primary motivation of the linguistic units that phono semantics studies"[Akhvlediani ... 2007: 23]


Phono Semantic is considered as an integral discipline of linguistics and its origin the same time is connected with a few of linguistic theory: R. Brown's Reference theory, I. Taylor’s Associative Concept; C. Newman, M. Bentley, E. Verona, M. Mairon and their theories according to which sound symbolic is based on the underlying physical (acoustic and articulation) properties, transposition of one of the sensations into the other (P. Kaints) or synaesthesia - perceptual and emotional relationship between the sequence of events (R. Jacobson) [Akhvlediani ... 2007: 25];

The term synaesthesia, itself, which is rarely used in linguistics, is more a reflection of one particular aspect of sound symbolism - colours and sounds conformity with a synthetic basis. N. Kiziria’s work [Kiziria, 2003] is noteworthy in this respect, which uses the term sound symbolism.

The review of the Georgian linguistic literature reveals that for the Kartvelian languages ​​the analyses of sound symbolism and the conclusions are based on the analysis of symbolism and expressive nature of onomatopoeia and Bgertsera, the analysis of poetic creativity, psycholinguistic experiments, and based on the terms and concepts of the system, which can be of three types:

  1. a.     The foreign terms that are well adapted to the Georgian and put their morphological mould (onomatopoeia, sounds symbolism)
  2. Georgian terms and concepts (Bgertsera, outward vocabulary, semantics, sounds non-equal functional sorts, primary masdars)

Foreign terms (Phono semantic, synaesthesia, intensive, expressive)

[1] "Bgertsera" (writing of the sounds) is not connected to the Russian term „звукопись“, because it is mainly available in Russian Poetic Literature (for example, see Klaushina 2011). The term "Bgertsera" (writing of the sounds) can be connected to the German „Lautmalerei“ and Russian „звукоизобразительност“.

[2] See Apridonidze 1993:93


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