Phonaesthemes and sound symbolism in Swedish brand names

Article English OPEN
Abelin, Åsa (2015)
  • Publisher: Elsevier BV
  • Journal: Ampersand, volume 2, pages 19-29 (issn: 2215-0390)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1016/j.amper.2014.12.001
  • Subject: Brand name | Sound symbolism | Phonaestheme | Corpus | Philology. Linguistics | P1-1091 | Cross-modal priming

This study examines the prevalence of sound symbolism in Swedish brand names. A general principle of brand name design is that effective names should be distinctive, recognizable, easy to pronounce and meaningful. Much money is invested in designing powerful brand names, where the emotional impact of the names on consumers is also relevant and it is important to avoid negative connotations. Customers prefer brand names, which say something about the product, as this reduces product uncertainty (Klink, 2001). Therefore, consumers might prefer sound symbolic names. It has been shown that people associate the sounds of the nonsense words maluma and takete with round and angular shapes, respectively. By extension, more complex shapes and textures might activate words containing certain sounds. This study focuses on semantic dimensions expected to be relevant to product names, such as mobility, consistency, texture and shape. These dimensions are related to the senses of sight, hearing and touch and are also interesting from a cognitive linguistic perspective. Cross-modal assessment and priming experiments with pictures and written words were performed and the results analysed in relation to brand name databases and to sound symbolic sound combinations in Swedish (Abelin, 1999). The results show that brand names virtually never contain pejorative, i.e. depreciatory, consonant clusters, and that certain sounds and sound combinations are overrepresented in certain content categories. Assessment tests show correlations between pictured objects and phoneme combinations in newly created words (non-words). The priming experiment shows that object images prime newly created words as expected, based on the presence of compatible consonant clusters.
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