Onomatopoeia is words whose sound imitates either the sound they denote or a sound associated with something they denote. This thesis investigates how the Khmer lexicon is structured with respect to onomatopoeia, its productivity and cross language similarities in certain area of sound symbolism.

            Naturally, onomatopoeia, in this thesis, is taken as imitative term for all kinds of sound (natural sound, animal calls, body noise…) and other sound-symbolic words that express shapes, colors, smells, motions, or emotion are described as “sound symbolism”. The Khmer is usually viewed as a language that is rich in onomatopoeic words, approximately more than 300 pure onomatopoeic words. Onomatopoeic words are constrained by the phonological and lexical systems of a language. In the Khmer languages, affix is a tentative creation; therefore firstly, onomatopoeia develops into accurate word through this method, for example : ko:k > banko:k, chaŋ > pra:chaŋ, sep > ksep, khol > khpol… it is more adequate that we see the most of onomatopoeic words, in Khmer, are reduplicate (chevchav, pho:ŋphaŋ, phlekphlak, po:kpak…). The onomatopoeia is frequently used in literature, poetry, in which that need descriptive word for animal calls; natural sound and also sounds from feeling; thus, the poet must choose the right word give readers the right sound when he speaks of “chav” sound of water on hot metal “choŋchaŋ” sound of clash of weapons; “cha:”sound of noisy crowd, “chu:” sound of gushing or people in panic; “cre:k” sound of hum of cicadas.

            Many researchers have been argued that onomatopoeia is arbitrary because of the difference of imitative words from one to another language while the another researchers think that there are two very limited and partial exceptions to the arbitrariness of language are onomatopoeia and sound symbolism; however; different languages represent the same natural sounds in slightly different ways. Even though, we know that every language has a different set of phoneme boxes, for example two English phonemes that give a great deal of trouble to speakers of other language are the two “th” sounds. Many languages do not have these sounds at all, and so their speakers take sound out of the nearest boxes in their language.

            Finally, onomatopoeic and other sound-symbolic words form a major part of the Khmer lexicon.

By Miss.Prum Chantha, thesis of Master degree, 2004


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