Affect and iconicity in phonological variation

Annette D'Onofrio, Penelope Eckert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The study of iconic properties of language has been marginalized in linguistics, with the assumption that iconicity, linked with expressivity, is external to the grammar. Yet iconicity plays an essential role in sociolinguistic variation. At a basic level, repetition and phonetic intensification can intensify the indexicality of variables. Iconicity plays a further role in variation in the form of sound symbolism, linking properties of sounds with attributes or objects. Production studies have shown some phonological variables exhibiting sound symbolism, particularly in the expression of affect. In some cases, the observation of sound symbolism has been largely interpretive. But in others, stylistic variability as a function of speaker affect has provided empirical evidence of iconicity. This article examines the role of iconicity and performativity in transcending the limits of reference, reviews iconicity in production studies, and provides experimental evidence that sound symbolism influences how listeners attribute affect to linguistic variation. (Variation, iconicity, affect)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-51
Number of pages23
JournalLanguage in Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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