Georg von der Gabelentz and 'das lautsymbolische Gefühl': a chapter in the history of iconicity research


In any future history of iconicity research, a chapter will have to be reserved to a singular figure in the history of linguistics: Georg von der Gabelentz (1840–1893). Only few scholars have paid attention to Gabelentz’ views on iconicity. Coseriu (1967: 97) mentions Gabelentz’ “interesting and fertile ideas” on sound symbolism, without further discussion, like Schuchardt (1897: 205) had done before him. The most comprehensive reference to date is a two-page summary of Gabelentz’ views on sound symbolism in Jakobson & Waugh (1987: 181-183). For the rest, it seems that Gabelentz’ observations have gone largely unnoticed in modern scholarship. In this article I therefore discuss some of his observations on sound symbolism as they can be found in his magnum opus 'Die Sprachwissenschaft' ([1891] 1901). Although reflections on the expressive values of sounds have a long tradition in Western thinking, Gabelentz is among the first scholars who turned the previously mostly intuitive and unsystematic presentations of this aspect of language into a more systematic approach based on a number of insightful conceptual distinctions. After Gabelentz, the role of sound symbolism has been increasingly discussed by scholars, e.g. Paul ([1880] 1909), Wundt (1900), Leskien (1902/1903), Rubinyi (1913), among others. However, it seems that the importance and the proper place of Gabelentz in this historical development has not been duly appreciated

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