What is Phonaesthetics?

The English compound noun cellar door (especially in its British pronunciation of /sɛləˈdɔə/) is commonly used as an example of a word or phrase which is beautiful in terms of phonaesthetics (i.e., sound) with no regard for semantics (i.e., meaning).[1] It has been variously presented either as merely one beautiful instance of many, or as the most beautiful in the English language; as the author’s personal choice, that of an eminent scholar’s, or of a foreigner who does not speak the language.

Geoff Nunberg suggests the use of such a semantically banal term to illustrate the idea of beauty appeals to aesthetes as “an occasion to display a capacity to discern beauty in the names of prosaic things”

Your language too has soft and beautiful words, but they are not always appreciated. What could be more musical than your word cellar-door?


Then someone says…

I love French wine, like I love the French language. I have sampled every language, French is my favorite. Fantastic language. Especially to curse with. Nom de dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperie de connard d’enculer ta mère. It’s like wiping your arse with silk. I love it.

¨ (die sogenannte Umlaut)

Those two dots, often mistaken for an umlaut, are actually a diaeresis (pronounced “die heiresses”; it’s from the Greek for “divide”). The difference is that an umlaut is a German thing that alters the pronunciation of a vowel (Brünnhilde), and often changes the meaning of a word: schon (adv.), already;schön (adj.), beautiful. In the case of a diphthong, the umlaut goes over the first vowel. And it is crucial. A diaeresis goes over the second vowel and indicates that it forms a separate syllable. Most of the English-speaking world finds the diaeresis inessential. Even Fowler, of Fowler’s “Modern English Usage,” says that the diaeresis “is in English an obsolescent symbol.”


I love this text (extracted from Language Trainers’ blog)

I was recently asked by a family member why the word naïve has two dots above the i, even though they can only ever remember seeing it written as naive. They thought it was anumlaut, which is added to certain vowels in German (usually ö and ü) to change their pronunciation. A German umlaut (or a “trema” when applied to Dutch) implies an “e” sound, and words can be written with or without the diacritic: e.g. the German for “spoon” can be written löffel or loeffel.

However, the ï in naïve is not an umlaut – it’s a diaeresis, also known as a hiatus. An umlaut signifies a compound letter, whereas a diaeresis signifies that a vowel should be taken as a separate sound from the preceding one – that is to say, that the second vowel is not part of a diphthong. “Naïve” is not pronounced the same as “knave”, but more like“ny-eev”; just as the name Zoë (sadly only rarely seen spelled with the diaeresis nowadays) is not pronounced “zo”, but “zo-ee”.

If you read any old books, you may come across diaereses in words that have, over time, lost them. Words like cooperate were originally spelled with the diaeresis: coöperate,reestablish would be rendered as reëstablish, and seer would be written seeër.

Interestingly, both of the terms for describing this linguistic feature (diaeresis and hiatus) have, in themselves, one of their own: diaeresis and hiatus. Perhaps they should be written diaëresis and hiätus!

The diaeresis is a dying diacritic in English – certain publications like the the New Yorkerstill retain them as part of their house style, but they are rarely seen or used, besides by grammarians.


Ending note. So beautiful an expression!

belle page página de la derecha ou impar
fausse page página de la izquierda ou par


Oh la la, sempre amb la manieta a les esquerres i als esquerrans…!


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