Drawing on data from a sample of 111 languages, this study examines whether certain segments occur with a higher frequency in terms for ‘nose’, ‘lip’, and ‘tooth’ than would be expected if the form–meaning correspondence were fully arbitrary. It is found that this is indeed the case for ‘nose’ and ‘lip’: cross-linguistically, terms for ‘nose’ contain a higher than average number of nasals, and terms for ‘lip’ are more likely than other vocabulary items to contain a bilabial stop. The upshot is, then, that there is a cross-linguistic tendency for these investigated meanings to be designated by terms with a sound-symbolic component. While intuitively appealing, the motivation for this tendency is far from clear, and the article concludes with some speculations concerning the cause of this phenomenon.
© Mouton de Gruyter – Societas Linguistica Europaea