Sunday, January 09, 2022


Words and Their Sounds

Augustine, On Dialectic 6 (tr. Jan Pinborg):
For example, 'lene' (smoothly) itself has a smooth sound. Likewise, who does not by the name itself judge 'asperitas' (roughness) to be rough? It is gentle to the ears when we say 'voluptas' (pleasure); it is harsh when we say 'crux' (cross). Thus the words are perceived in the way the things themselves affect us. Just as honey itself affects the taste pleasantly, so its name 'mel' affects the hearing smoothly. 'Acre' (bitter) is harsh in both ways. Just as the words 'lana' (wool) and 'vepres' (brambles) are heard, so the things themselves are felt. The Stoics believed that these cases where the impression made on the senses by the things is in harmony with the impression made on the senses by the sounds are, as it were, the cradle of words. From this point they believed that the license for naming had proceeded to the similarity of things themselves to each other.

ut ipsum 'lene' cum dicimus leniter sonat. quis item 'asperitatem' non et ipso nomine asperam iudicet? lene est auribus cum dicimus 'voluptas', asperum cum dicimus 'crux'. ita res ipsae adficiunt, ut verba sentiuntur. 'mel', quam suaviter gustum res ipsa, tam leniter nomine tangit auditum. 'acre' in utroque asperum est. 'lana' et 'vepres', ut audiuntur verba, sic illa tanguntur. haec quasi cunabula verborum esse crediderunt, ubi sensus rerum cum sonorum sensu concordarent. hinc ad ipsarum inter se rerum similitudinem processisse licentiam nominandi.

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