Does Sonority of a Language Impacts the Culture?
Sonority refers to the pleasantness of the words. Certain phoneme combinations in words have rhythmic nature that imparts it with an overall pleasantness. When a language is being born, the formulation of the components of the initial words i.e, the sound of each phonemes or syllables that combines to form a word, must be either totally arbitrary or must be influenced by the then existing socio-cultural-geographical memes/artifacts. If it is purely arbitrary, then it must have satisfied a set of ears in terms of its pleasantness of hearing. Pleasantness of hearing is subjective to listeners, depending on one’s mother tongue and L2. Initial language drafters, in the absence of another language, must have combined cues from environment mostly for the words. This begs a different question. If different people born to different geographies like, frigid cold icy climates of polar nations and hot arid desert climate, in the absence of an existing mother tongue, find similar preference to pleasantness to same set of words?
Well this is a difficult experiment as, none is born without a mother-tongue, except for some aborigines. My guess is that there would be difference in terms of their preference regarding the sonority of words. Without the initial set of symbols clamped on to their Language Acquisition Device, as Noam Chomsky theorizes, which I think is what determines the sonority through out ones lifetime, that role of providing that initial symbolic conditions would be fulfilled by mostly cultural/physical/geographical cues. As a counter-example, it is well known in linguistic circles that, the sound what phonemes /ow/, /oh/ is a mainly a constituent of the words with meaning “round”, becoz of the shape of the lip when pronouncing round. Likewise the phonemes /r/ got associated with roughness and coarseness. Maybe because some friction like feeling our voice articlulators makes when one pronounces /r/. These are innate to humans and independent of any cultures and must be imbibed by the initial word drafters of any language. In short a lot of the words are arbitrarily chosen, some are chosen by innate human characteristics, some by the prevalent socio-tribal-geographic factors. These proportion varies across languages.
One of the things that always fascinates my linguistic bend is the majesticity of the names in the Roman empire. Julius Ceaser, Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Constantinople, Pontifex Maximus, etc. These all sounds “exciting” and invokes a sense of regality. Maybe some sort of Anthropic principle is in works. The name Mark Antony is still used and is so common now. It must have something to do with the easiness and pleasantness of pronunciation. But to me as a person with a Dravidian language Malayalam as my mother tongue and primarily English as L2, I find these ancient Latin names interesting, irrespective of who they were in person. On the other hand I find a lot of names/nouns in Dravidian language totally drab, boring and unexciting. Maybe it is because of the primacy of English as the global language. Maybe it is because in the Latin derived language speaking countries, where the libertarian principles which I believe to be very much aligned to the meaningful existence of man, is formulated. Tomorrow if Chinese school of thought makes all the progress in the future, then I may find Chinese words to be nice sounding. Confirmation bias? There must be some complex relations between the sounding of words/names to the culture it brings out in people.
I remember one of my colleague’s question on why the word “put” is pronounced as /p/ /uh/ /t/ and “but” is pronounced as /b/ /ah/ /t/. It should have been /b/ /uh/ /t/. All I can think of is that it is randomly chosen, without referring to any rules.