The Alphabet of Meaning: the biological source of word meaning

Abstract.

This paper describes a previously unidentified form of sound symbolism that is very pervasive in core words in English and at least some other languages. This new feature of language identifies a set of semantic primitives that have an experiential basis that can operate in word meaning in any language. The nature of the primitives implies that they are, in fact, biological in that precisely the same set acan be seen to underpin the interaction of organisms with the environment. In language the primitives operate as the nucleus of word meaning alongside sensory and linguistic constituents. The paper proposes that the semantic primitives’ neural instantiations contribute to the generation of word and concept meaning through the principle of similarity between neural configurations and external entities.

Key words: Sound symbolism, articulation, iconicity, semantic primitives, experiential categories, gestalt schemas, world/brain state similarity.


Contents.
Introduction
Sound symbolism
A new form of sound symbolism
The semes of English
Sematicity

The biology of meaning
The evolution of concept and word meaning
The zoemic analysis of word meaning
Similarity as the basis of representation and reference in words

Summary and conclusions


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This paper is an initial description of a new body of linguistic data and a discussion of some hypotheses derived from it. It impinges on a number of issues that are controversial but it will not engage with these in a major way because the primary aim here is to describe the phenomenon and some of its implications so that it can be subjected to critical review. A full engagement with these issues will be the subject of later papers.

1. Introduction.

How the meaning of words is constituted is an unresolved issue in linguistics. There is little that is more familiar than the meaning of words, but no matter how precisely we understand them we are uncertain of their actual nature, of how they are constituted in our minds and brains and in communal usage. Are word meanings definitions or verbal descriptions (the so-called Classical theory)? Are they in part or in whole imagistic? (Kosslyn). Are they innate and atomic as Fodor proposes? Can they be broken down into semantic primitives of some kind as has been proposed by some authorities? Are they inscribed in the neural system in some abstract amodal pattern that we are able to interpret? (Pylyshyn). Are they constructions that emanate from their use? (Wittgenstein). Are they derived from perceptual symbols deposited in long-term memory? (Barsalou). Do meanings exist in the head or in some communal sphere, or both? Are they constituted individually or are they nodes in a vast net, deriving their meaning from their position in the net in relation to other words’ meanings? Or is the world of word meaning so vast and diverse that elements of several of these approaches are involved?

            In this paper I will describe a newly identified feature of language that may present at least part of the answer. In brief, this is a set of semantic primitives, constituents of word meaning, that are manifested in at least some languages in previously unidentified iconic relationships between the sounds of words and the primitives operating as facets of word meaning. I believe the primitives are specific, simple, necessary, abstract and innate elements of human experience that are activated in specific regions of the brain. With their support, the expanding universe of words becomes possible. They have sensory, motor and proprioceptive characteristics and some are of an affective type that is essential to their function as I will describe below. In constituting word meaning they are, I propose, complemented by schematic mental images or gestalts of different degrees of power and other semantic features and strategies that are necessary for the creation of the full scope of our lexicon. The constitution of word meaning, that is necessary to meet the demands upon it, is complex, but at its core, I propose, is this set of primitives. In effect it comprises an ‘alphabet’ of word meaning that can operate more or less in parallel (but not in concord) with the ‘alphabet’ of sounds that forms the physical presence of words. It will become clear that this unanticipated but highly significant central feature of language is readily perceptible in word meanings once it is recognised. The implications of this new code of meaning are likely to be extensive. Although the paper is founded on a substantial body of linguistic data there is a need for the data to be reviewed by other authorities. Some further refinement and development will be needed. My interpretations of the data and hypotheses about its implications are also in need of review. A prime purpose of this paper is to seek such review.

But how is it that a linguistic phenomenon of such apparent magnitude was not discovered earlier, and has been identified by way of a simple and undemanding process? The idea that individual language sounds have meaning has been explored at least since the time of Plato who devoted a dialogue, Cratylus, to largely unsuccessful attempts to show associations between sounds and meanings. Aristotle argued strongly that the sound combinations of words were purely a matter of social convention. Many philosophers down the ages joined the fray from either side. In the early days of linguistic science Frederick von Humboldt, the great German linguist was convinced that there was a deep connection between sounds and meanings but conceded defeat in identifying the nature of the connection. Early in the twentieth century the great Swiss structural linguist, a founder of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure promulgated the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign as a founding principle of his linguistic system. He proposed that there was no intrinsic connection between word sounds and meanings apart from the insignificant case of onomatapoeia. The appeal of this principle was overwhelming for good reasons. No significant contrary pattern of association had been discovered and anyone could testify that no such pattern was evident. Furthermore, it was patently obvious that such a pattern, if extensive, would have the effect of jeopardising the ability of languages to coin combinations of sounds to meet the demands of an expanding vocabulary. The millennia long search for meanings associated with sounds came to a halt. Linguistics advanced along more productive avenues. There remained, nonetheless, a chink in the armour of sausurrean arbitrariness.

2. Sound symbolism.

Sound symbolism, a relationship of similarity or iconicity between word sounds and their meanings or facets of their meanings, has been studied extensively from early in the twentieth century. Major contributors include Jespersen, Sapir, Boas, Firth, Bloomfield and Jacobson. Extensive studies of different forms of sound symbolism across languages from all quarters of the globe have continued but the subject has elicited diminished interest from linguists as other areas have flourished. Sound symbolism in its various forms is a global phenomenon. However, my primary concern in this paper is establishing the extent of its occurrence in English because I believe such knowledge will provide a solid basis for further investigation in other languages.

There have been two significant recent collections of work in the field, Hinton, Nichols and O’Hala’s Sound Symbolism (1994) and Nanny and Fischer’s Form Miming Meaning (1999). Both collections are mainly descriptive in nature. The first volume contains valuable accounts of sound symbolism in a range of languages but the second is focused more on iconicity in literature than in language and is of limited relevance in the present context. The first volume illustrates the extensiveness of the occurrence of sound symbolism across languages, and the richness and variety of application of the several distinct types. It is notable, however, that this feature of language has not so far been very productive of significant new linkages with other areas of linguistics. It has become something of an enclave in linguistics.

The terminology that has been used by various authorities is somewhat confused but the editors of the first volume developed a useful typology of sound symbolism that included three main types: 1. Imitative sound symbolism, or onomatopoeia is confined to words that describe sounds; 2. Synesthetic sound symbolism is defined as “acoustic symbolization of non-acoustic phenomena”. The most widely recognised example is the use of certain vowels and consonants to define large and small size (and some other analogous notions). This type has been described in numerous languages and is the best authenticated form of sound symbolism across languages. Most of the papers in the Nichols volume are concerned with this type. 3. Conventional sound symbolism, (or phonesthesia) is “the analogical association of certain phonemes and clusters [of phonemes] with certain meanings”. Such clusters generally arise from the creation of new words by the imitation of existing words with a specific sound-meaning association. Phonesthesia has a prominent place in the English lexicon, particularly in the form of initial consonant clusters and final clusters involving vowels and consonants. It probably occurs widely in the world’s languages. The well-known /cl/, /cr/, /gl/, /sl/ and /ump/ clusters are just a few members of this large category in English. Hinton et al observe in their introduction that this type is “getting close to the arbitrary end of the language scale”, hence the “conventional” label which is also based on the relatively recent, clearly imitative, origin of much of the vocabulary in this class. My main interest is with this category and the second.

An example of the synesthetic type in English is the common occurrence of open (low frequency) vowels, such as /a/, /o/ and /u/ in words that denote largeness in various forms (huge, far) and close (high frequency) vowels like /i/ and /e/ in words that denote smallness (tiny, near). The /cr/ cluster is an example of phonesthesia. It is evident in words such as cram, cramped, crawl, crease, creep, crinkled, crimp, cripple, crisp, crooked, crowd, crumple, crush that have a common element of meaning that can be described as distorted by pressure into an unnatural shape. In this case iconic association seems to be based on the nature of the combination of the two sounds that involves a rather difficult articulatory transition. This contrasts with the /sm/ sound symbolism cluster that involves a smooth transition that is appropriate for the common meaning associated with these words that I interpret as spread across a surface. Prominent examples are smatter, smear, smile, smoke, smooth, smother, smudge. It is typical of sound symbolism that the meaning can be extended in several directions as in smack and smart (v.), smash, smite (on a surface but minimal distribution across it), smell (implies, perhaps, distribution as across olfactory surfaces), smother and smoulder (implying a hidden distribution).

Jespersen (1922) distinguished a significant range of types of words, mainly in English, that exhibit phonesthesia––things and appearances, states of mind and size and distance, as did most of the earlier commentators. He observed that “sound symbolism has a very wide range of application, from direct imitation of perceived natural sounds to such small quantitative changes of non-symbolic words as may be used for purely grammatical purposes”. He concluded that “no language utilizes sound symbolism to its full extent but contains numerous words that are indifferent or even may jar with symbolism”. Most of the more recent authorities, such as those in the Nichols volume have been even more reluctant to attribute any fundamental linguistic importance to sound symbolism while exploring its presence in many languages, often only in the form of size symbolism. Saussure’s long shadow is evident.

Three major questions arise with regard to phonesthesia. The first is whether the associations are, in fact, purely conventional or whether the sounds are in some way analogically motivated by the associated meaning as is the case with the synesthetic category where, it is universally agreed, articulation is the motivating factor. There have been few suggestions in the literature that phonesthetic clusters are naturally motivated. Jespersen’s view that they are conventional, as reiterated in the Nichols definition above, has been widely adopted despite suggestions in the articulatory “shape” of some clusters to the contrary (for example /cl/ with its meaning clinging, and /cr/ and /sm/ as described above all have a distinct appearance of a degree of natural motivation and iconicity). Later in the paper I will describe a form of motivation through the individual phonemes of some of the clusters that is indicative of a substantial degree of motivation in English phonesthemes. (Section 8.4 1d).

The second question is whether there is some deeper aspect to phonesthesia than simply a role in the expansion of the lexicon via imitation and whether it has implications for other aspects of language. As I have noted the literature suggests that phonesthesia and sound symbolism more generally do not appear to have important implications for other fields of linguistics. My research suggests that there is a much more extensive and pervasive form of sound symbolism than the phonesthemes, at least in some languages, and that it may have some very significant linkages in linguistics and beyond.

The third question is whether there is support for the suggestions of the Ohala, and Morton papers in Nichols et al that at least one form of sound symbolism, the synesthetic type has biological precedents (in the form of animal phonations and even postural changes in aggression and submission). Diffloth (1994) maintained that this was not a promising avenue of investigation. In Section 6 I will propose that there are robust grounds for a biological basis for sound symbolism that do not conflict with the role of convention and the principle of arbitrariness.

3. A new form of sound symbolism.

The discovery of a new pattern of association of word sounds and meanings stemmed from an accidental event outside the ambit of academic linguistics. This was my identification in the English language of one, and then a small cluster, and eventually a substantial set of apparently previously unidentified associations of single sounds and meanings in the initial phoneme of many of our most frequently used words. This was a very surprising result. Although the words occur sparsely in the full lexicon it soon became obvious that that they were highly significant because they are heavily concentrated in our everyday language, the heart of the lexicon, and consequently have a high incidence in normal language use.

It is fair to say that I stumbled on this phenomenon but I soon developed a simple method for extracting the relatively small body of words that provide the evidence for it. (See Annex 2.) The first step was to identify the most commonly used words in a section of the dictionary, the core words. These are comparable to words for basic-level concepts as defined and described by Roche, 1978 and Lakoff and Johnson, 2000­. The basic-level of categorisation is characterized as that at which (a) most of our everyday knowledge is organized; (b) the highest level at which a single mental image can represent a whole natural category and the highest level at which members of a category have a set of common characteristics; and (c) the highest level for interaction with common bodily actions. Thus cow is basic-level, Jersey is at a subordinate level and animal is a superordinate category.

I define the core words as follows: (1) they are necessary for non-specialist verbal communication because they refer to entities with a very high salience in normal day-to-day experience; and (2) they generally have simple, unstructured monadic meanings in normal usage, for example sad, safe, same, sand, shout, sound as compared with words with more complex meanings, e.g. sacrilege, seminal, simulate, solicit, symphony. These two criteria tend to work in conjunction in determining the choice of core words that comprise very small proportions of the full word-counts in all sections. The definition is far from watertight but it operates satisfactorily because differences in interpretation as to which words to include have little effect on outcomes. The second step was to identify facets of meaning that were common to many of these words. This was not a difficult task in most sections as the meanings were normally readily evident from the core words although heavily obscured in the full section. (In the s section, however, the common meaning is obscure and the meaning I have identified may be debatable). With these two steps I identified the core words that are printed in bold in Annex 2. My selection of core words is not intended to be definitive but addition and subtractions within the criteria do not affect the characteristics of the set. I propose that the core words have a fundamental characteristic that is not shared by many non-core words. This is that the nuclei of the meaning of many of these words is structured by the primitive elements that I am about to describe.

In my initial stumbling encounter, before I worked out this method, I became aware of a meaning that seemed to thread through a cluster of b words such as bag, ball, bead, bean, bee, beetle, belly, big, bird, bosom, bottle, bowl, breast, bubble, bud, bulb, bulge, bum, bump (n.) bun, buttock, buxom. This meaning was a rounded shape, a convex surface that can occur in objects that differ widely in other respects. I began exploring the English dictionary to see if this commonality of meaning was more widespread. For example, I examined words with initial p, a sound close to b except that it lacks voice. I immediately found an even more extensive and diverse set of words with a shared facet of meaning that I identified as particularity, specificity. These words included parcel, part, pass (v.), patch, path, pause, pea, peak, pebble, peculiar, pen, perch (v.), perfect, period, person, picture, piece, pile, pill, pin, pinch, pip, place and many others. In this case the sound seemed to be especially appropriate for association with the meaning on account of its brevity as a plosive phoneme and also perhaps its lack of voice that seemed consistent with the meaning in some way that I could not quite identify, perhaps the highly specific character of some of the referents. By contrast the emphasis in the b words was more on a characteristic of the shape of physical things. I wondered if the articulation of this sound motivated the common meaning in some way. The presence of voice seemed relevant but another possible factor, I surmised, was the very slight bulging of the cheeks as the voiced sound is made. (It may be observed that particularity can also be attributed to the meaning of the b words. This is the case. I will propose later that word meaning consist, in part, of configurations of these iconic factors. It may also be noted that rounded shape applies to only a few of the p words e.g. pea, pebble.)

In both these sections the words that fitted this pattern of commonality of initial sound and facet of meaning constituted a tiny sub-set of the words in the sections but a substantial proportion of their most commonly used words. They dominate our everyday language. I continued my investigation in other sections of the dictionary and eventually identified credible sound/meaning associations in a substantial proportion of the core words of all sections.

I have called this persistent association of phoneme, or group of phonemes related by similarity of articulation, with a specific element of word meaning, a seme. The meaning element itself I call a sematic meaning and the phenomenon of this kind of sound/meaning association, sematicity.

I will provide four more examples of sematicity, from the f, n, y and k sections of the dictionary, in an endeavour to build some confidence in the concept. In the f section words such as fabric, face, feel, flag, flat, flood, floor, flow, fold, full began to suggest the common meaning, surface. This was quite a different kind of surface from that in the b section because the sense of roundedness was absent. This group comprised only a moderate proportion of the core words. But another group of words emerged with a very different common quality––fake, false, fancy, farce, fault, feign, fiction, flimsy, fluff, fraud, frill plus others. They appeared to have a contrary, polar quality. Instead of flat, firm surfaces these words refer to unreliable, unstable, deceptive, insubstantial surfaces in a variety of ways. This kind of differentiation turned out to be a common feature of sematicity.   The sematic meanings generally incorporate a scale of meaning that runs from one pole to another. This is an intrinsic characteristic of the semes. Here we find flat, firm tangible surfaces at one pole and something very different at the other. F turned out to be quite a complex seme with a small cluster of associated sematic meanings all centred on surface but in quite oblique ways in some cases. Eventually the sematic meaning that became evident incorporated the great majority of the core words of the section. No other possible descriptor produced a comparable result. Note that the meanings associated with b and p relate to very few of the f words.

The n section has a very robust seme. It’s meaning is straightforward as it has fewer sub-components than some others. The meaning is contraction, compression, reduction and negation. The first three descriptors are indicative of a single meaning that no single word expresses satisfactorily while the fourth is an extension of this meaning rather than a pole­­––contraction disappears into its own fundament. Some core words are: nail, naked, name, narrow, navel, near, necessary, neck, need, needle, nest, never, new, night, nipple, no, nod, nose, nothing, now, numb, nut. The sematic meaning is not too difficult to detect in most of these words. There is a physical compression or reduction of some form in nail, narrow, navel, near, neck, needle, nest, nipple, nose and nut; an extreme reduction from the norm in necessary and need; a diminution of light in night; a somewhat oblique compression in new, now, naked and name where the exclusivity of the latter appears relevant. The negation of no, not, never and so on carries compression to the extreme. There is no pole here, but another seme, y, carries the natural polar meaning, extension, stretching, as in yard, yawn, year, yell, yesterday, yet, yonder. This is one of several cases where polarity extends across two semes.

The tiny k section of the dictionary with its very high proportion of borrowed words proved problematic in that the core words initially appeared to be too disparate to accommodate a common sematic meaning. Words like kick, kill and knock suggested a meaning along the lines of physical intensity––brief and brutal­­––but this seemed to be contradicted by kind (adj.), kiss and know. Others such as keen, keep, key, and the kn- cluster knead, knee, knife, knit, knob, knock, knot, and knuckle looked unlikely contenders but there still seemed to be a quite deep common element of meaning. I propose that physical intensity lies at the root of the meaning of all these words, but that it takes a variety of forms and operates across a scale. In keen we can feel a proprioceptive intensity, in keep there is generally an element of moderate physical effort, of holding on. Key seems to contain physical intensity in another way, one that relates to the complicated pins and levels that it interacts with inside a lock, a sense of intricacy of operation. In king there may be a physical sense of the authority and prestige inherent in this elevated role, while kiss requires an intensity of an entirely different kind but no less physical than in many of the other k words. Most of the kn- words have a manifest intense physicality, sometimes in a form of angularity or sharpness, the stance of the body as it presses down on the dough in knead, the angularity of knee and knuckle, the dangerous edge of knife, the busy needles of knit, the obtrusion of knob, and the tight intricacy of knot. But what of know? The physical/somatic aspect of knowing is integral to the understanding of cognition that will be developed in this paper. This accounts for all of the core words in this section apart from kettle, kidney and kitchen, which have no sign of the sematic meaning. There are many non-core words that do not conform to the sematic pattern at all, but they are predominantly foreign introductions such as kangaroo, karate, kayak, kewpie, khaki, kosher, kowtow. This short section works as a crucible in which sematicity is displayed more clearly than in most, including the way a sematic meaning can participate in the formation of a great diversity of word meanings. This characteristic is common to all the semes.

A central aspect of sematicity is evident in the semes discussed above. This is that the motivating factor, the link between meaning and sound, is a kind of iconicity, a relationship of similarity between the manner of articulation of the sounds and the associated sematic meaning which reflects a feature of the world. In the case of n, compression is expressed by the pressure of the tip of the tongue on the ridge behind the upper front teeth (the alveolar ridge) while the extension of y finds expression in a quite complex constrained opening of the jaws as the following vowel is introduced, a literal taut stretching. Most of the other semes also display an iconic relationship between the form of articulation and the sematic meaning although it is considerably more obscure in some cases than in these two. I attribute the motivation of the bodily roundness of b, tentatively, to the slight puffing of the cheeks as the sound is articulated; the surface of f to the firm expression of breath between the upper front teeth and the lower lip; and the physical intensity of k to the hard brevity of the articulation of this palatal consonant before /e/ and /i/ (front vowels) and /n/ in earlier English. (This contrasts with the initial velar sound of c words in which the following vowels are predominantly /a/, /o/ and /u/ which are back vowels. The greater back quality of c results in a quite different sematic meaning.

An important feature of sematicity is that the meanings can often be found without sematicity in words that begin with the other sounds, for example, particularity in knife, knock and knob but this does not impair the integrity of the semes. It is a consequence of the way in which configurations of a number of sematic meanings are (partially) constitutive of word meaning as I will illustrate in section 8 and it is a manifestation of the primality of the role of the sematic meanings in cognition that will progressively become clearer. Sematicity is the tip of a very large iceberg.

4. The semes of English.

When I had completed my investigations into the English dictionary I had identified a seme for every section with the probable exception of x. The full set of semes, with brief descriptors, is set out in Table 1. (Full descriptors are provided in the annexes). The strength of the sound-meaning association was variable but it was very robust in most sections. This was a new and unexpected feature of language but its significance was very unclear at that stage. The contents of the table are likely to strike the reader as an odd collection without coherence or any obvious corporate significance. I hope that impression will change as I outline features of the semes that are not apparent initially. In due course I will contend that the sematic meanings have a hugely important function: they constitute an ‘alphabet’ of human experience that has a central function in spelling out word and concept meaning––an ABC of meaning!

            Table 1: The ‘alphabet’ of the English semes.

a: action; largeness
b: bodily roundness; natural being
c: the community life-world
d: positiveness / negativeness
e: the physical life-world
f: surface; superficiality
g: abundance; generosity
h: acquisition; possession; self-interest
i:  smallness; interiority
j: energy; playfulness
k: physical intensity
l: manifestness; display
m: materiality; magnitude

n:contraction,reduction; negation
o: openness; spatiality
p: particularity
q: uncertainty
r: intensity of energy
s: somatic affect; the body
t: tactility
u: displacement; negation
v: fullness / emptiness
w: existential value
x: strangeness
y: extension; stretching
z: energy / emptiness

The meanings in the table are short forms of the full descriptions in Annex 1. It is obvious from the table that the semes do not relate purely to physical parameters of the world as was the case with the examples I used above. In particular a number, such as d, g and h, have an affective character. They express affective attitudes to worldly entities. This is a central aspect of the sematic meanings. Affectivities have a more pervasive presence in many everyday word meanings than is usually recognised.The nature of the connection between articulation and sematic meaning is crucial for the concept of sematicity that I am developing. The connection is somatic. Word meaning is profoundly embodied. The sounds of words are embodied in the sense that they are articulated by breath control and complex movements of mouth parts, but word meaning has always been regarded as a non-bodily, cerebral element of language. The semes suggest that word meaning, at least in the bulk of our everyday language, has a bodily form in the way in which we seem to act out our meanings to a certain degree through articulation, as a kind of oral gesturing. The sounds so produced are not abstract, arbitrary counters that are given meaning only by convention as Saussure so categorically asserted. The hegemony of arbitrariness over word meaning is far from absolute.

But how confident can we be that these sematic meanings that are associated with the core words of the sections of the dictionary in Annex 2 are as significant as I will claim in this paper? The simple statistical analysis in Table 2 provides part of the answer. The results may seem very surprising in their unequivocal support of my proposal. But questions arise about the validity of these figures. They are obviously artifacts of my selection of core words.

However, the basis of the statistics is available for scrutiny in the Annex and in any dictionary. Adjustments to be more liberal or more restrictive in the inclusion of core words will generally balance on both sides of the equation. The results are also obviously influenced by my interpretation of what words to include as sematic. In a number of sections, particularly a, b, c, d, e and s my interpretation is particularly open to question because the presence of the meanings in some of the core words is less than clear. If allowance is made for this the results are still surprising.

            Table 2: Sematic words as a proportion of core words.

a
b
c
d
e
f
g
h
i
j
k
l

-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-

81.8
79.5
75.0
75.4
85.7
85.9
85.7
72.7
86.9
88.2
83.3
82.7

m
n
o
p
q
r
s
t
u
v
w
y
z
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-

78.0
89.2
91.4
89.7
99.1
88.1
66.6
79.9
93.9
92.6
100.0
83.3
--

How can we explain this new pattern that these figures reveal? I propose that there is a simple explanation. This is that there is a natural tendency in the development of languages for the form of words to mimic meaning. This is evident in onomatapoiea, in the widespread synesthetic symbolism of size and in the many examples of the shape as well as the sound of words reflecting their meaning, as in higgledepiggledy, rumbustious, extraordinary. In addition I have mentioned my view that there is a strong iconic element in phonesthesia in English, despite its lack of official recognition. These provide precedents for sematicity in that elements of word form reflect elements of meaning. But singly and additively they represent a small proportion of the English lexicon although they appear to be much more significant in some others such as Japanese, Korean and some Vietnamese languages. The addition of sematicity greatly enlarges the presence of sound-meaning iconicity in English, not only on account of the number of words but because the sematic words belong to the core of the lexicon in contrast to the bulk of the other kinds. To a sceptic the pattern of the full set of semes may still not be particularly convincing but I believe the further evidence the paper provides in support of the semes and the sematic meanings should resolve many remaining doubts and result in the conclusion that this is a significant feature of the English language, at least. The full significance of the sematic meanings will only emerge as the extent of their pervasiveness and their experiential primality is discussed in following sections. This new pattern demands further explanation but first I need to describe sematicity more fully.

5. Sematicity.

In this section I will outline the characteristics of the semes, describe how it is quite different from phonaesthesia and onomatapoiea and briefly discuss the likely presence of sematicity in other languages around the world.

5.1 The nature of sematicity.

Some characteristics of sematicity have emerged in the previous section but it will be useful to annotate them more fully. Some key features of the semes are as follows:

            1. The descriptors I have chosen should be regarded as indicative rather than definitive. The meanings are open to interpretation and they need to be examined by other investigators before we can be confident in my interpretations. In the interim I believe they afford a satisfactory basis for further study. 

            2. Semes operate most noticeably in the core words that represent human experience at its most elementary level (basic-level type words). They also occur in other words, but to a diminishing extent as words become more specialized, technical, artificially constructed and exotic. Although semes are most readily identified in the initial phoneme, they can occur in any position.

            3.  Most of the semes can be identified in a remarkably high proportion of the core words beginning with their sounds/letters––see Table 2.

            4. The bond between meanings and sounds is the form of the articulation of the sound that is generally iconic or imitative of the meaning to various degrees. In sematicity sound mimes meaning. One is motivated by the other. The articulatory motivation of individual semes is described in Annex 2.         

            5. Most of the sematic meanings have a polar and scalar character. The descriptors in Table 1 generally represent one pole, but the other pole and the scale between them are generally implied. Polarity is illustrated in the Annexes. Three semes have polar descriptors because their polarity is particularly marked. In some cases polarity operates between two separate semes e.g. a and i, n and y

            6. A key feature of the sematic meanings is their somatic (bodily) character. This contrasts with the supposedly mental nature of word meaning assumed in lexical semantics. This somatic character is a consequence of both the articulatory aspect of semes and the ‘felt’ nature of the sematic meanings. Most of them relate either to sensually cognized facets of the external world, to physical activity or to affective responses (‘gut reactions’) to entities. Such affects generally have a bodily manifestation of some kind, at least in regions of the brain that are associated with parts of the body. The sematic meanings are profoundly somatic!

        7. The sematic meaning descriptors are generalizations from the common sematic feature of a number of core words in a section of the dictionary. Their manifestation in any sematic word’s meaning may diverge somewhat from this norm but still needs to be consistent with it. The sematic meanings are quite metaphoric in nature. The descriptors are based on my best judgment but, again, there is a need for them to be reviewed.

        8. While the initial impression may be of a random collection of concepts there is, in fact, a strong coherence in the full set of semes. This will be clearer when they are recognized for what they are, as categories of human experience. An alternative outcome may have been that the sematic meanings were a mere hotchpotch as is the long list of cases of phonesthesia in English. The phenomenon that I am describing could then have been viewed simply as a species of sound symbolism, but in fact it differs profoundly in a number of important respects.

        9. Although the sematic meanings tend to bond with sounds according to the principle of articulatory iconicity they also occur very widely in word meanings without such bonding. In fact I propose that sematic meanings without the sematic linkage with sound play a part in all word meanings to various degrees. (See Section 8). The sematic meanings transcend sematicity.

On the basis of these characteristics, I believe that sematicity is a concept without an existing precedent in linguistic theory. It identifies a set of semantic primitives that have a central role on the construction of word meaning. These are quite different from previously mooted primitives such as those of Anna Wierzabicka and her colleagues (Goddard and Wierzabicka 1994) who have worked out a minimum set of words that are prerequisites for describing the meaning of any word in any language. They have isolated about fifty primitives of this type that they claim can fulfill this task. The result when applied to the analysis of word meanings is extremely convoluted. The primitives, on the other hand, can provide succinct descriptions of the structure of many core words although it requires the addition of gestalts. They are non-linguistic primitives that have, as I will demonstrate, strong biological credentials.

5.2 Sematicity and other forms of sound symbolism.

It should be clear from the forgoing that sematicity is quite distinct from the other forms of sound symbolism. In describing the differences I will focus mainly on phonesthesia in view of its prominence in English. Some of the main points of difference are: 1. While phonesthesia is generally associated with clusters of sounds the semes involve single sounds. 2. Sematic meanings are independently motivated by articulation but the motivation of symbolic clusters is often derived from the sematic meanings associated with the relevant sounds. 3. Sematicity occurs much more widely that sound symbolism across all types of words including grammatical words and words with abstract meanings. It is accordingly much more pervasive in everyday language. 4. While sematicity occurs in a very large proportion of the core words in the lexicon, phonesthetic words tend to lie in a less central zone of non-core physically descriptive words. 5. Phonesthesia is found predominantly in words of comparatively recent origin whereas sematic words often belong to the oldest stratum of the language. This should be evident from Annex 2. 6. The full set of sematic meanings that I have identified in English operates as a coherent system (that I will describe below) while the sound symbolic meanings have no systematicity and are simply a loose and somewhat arbitrary collection.

The final point is perhaps the most telling. A consequence that I will elaborate on in the next section is the possible universality of the sematic meanings themselves, independent of their connections with specific sounds, across all languages. This remarkable property is due to the meanings’ roles as fundamental, irreducible elements of human experience. On the other hand, I surmise (although I have not investigated the matter in detail) that phonesthesia occurs more sporadically than sematicity across languages. Furthermore, the set of sematic meanings is unique in being derived directly from precursors in other species, if the hypothesis I will outline later is valid.

5.3 The semes in other languages.

The semes in Table 1 are artifacts of the English language so far as the sound components are concerned. I have investigated the presence of sematicity in a number of other languages, three Indo-European and two non Indo-European (Finnish and Maori). I have found substantial evidence of a similar pattern of sematicity in the former group where most of the same sound/meaning associations occur, although somewhat less robustly than in English. This is hardly surprising as the sematic associations are often rooted in Proto-Indo-European. What was surprising was to find some of the same sound-meaning associations replicated to a significant degree in Finnish and Maori, two languages totally independent of Indo-European. These languages do, however, have phonetic systems that have a lot in common with English.

This is a pathetically small sample of the world’s languages with their great diversity of sound systems. I have no basis for judging how widely sematicity that uses similar or other systems of sounds is distributed. However, I eventually came to recognize that the distribution of sematicity in the world’s languages is of limited interest. Much more important is the role of the sematic meanings, the zoemes. Recognition that they represent a set of irreducible components of human experience (see next section) poses the strong probability, almost the certainty, that they must occur in all other languages by virtue of their fundamental experiential nature. In other words, I believe there is a universal set of semantic features or semantic primitives, that can exist in word meanings independent of sematicity, that constitute, in part, the meanings of words in all languages. There is an ‘alphabet’ of meaning that operates across the globe in parallel with the vast diversity of phonological alphabets––a Universal Semantics! The basis of this contentionwill become clear in the next section.

6. The biology of meaning.

Sematicity is a product of a seemingly natural human tendency towards meaning/sound iconicity, sound miming meaning. Phonesthesia, size-sound symbolism and onomatopoiea are results of the same tendency. I propose, however, that the sematic meanings have a life of their own in word meaning, independent of specific sound associations. Sematicity is simply one manifestation of the set of meanings in Table 1.

6.1 The sematic meanings as experiential categories.

As I have suggested, the meanings appear to have a surprising function: they can be regarded as a set of categories of human experience. I use the term categories in the philosophical sense as irreducible, necessary and exclusive prerequisites or foundations of human experience. I propose that the meanings constitute the highest genera, the ultimate class of the constituents of human experience. Many philosophers have sought to identify sets of fundamental categories. Aristotle’s ontological categories and Kant’s epistemological set, twelve in each case, are prime examples. The sematic meanings have a different but parallel basis. They are categories, not of being or knowing, but of experience. Their occurrence in the meanings of words is secondary to their occurrence in various forms of experience: interaction, perception and conceptualization. I propose that our cognition, our knowledge of the world and our action as sentient creatures in the world are dependent on the categories because they form the structure, the indispensible framework, of our interactions with things in the world and hence of our knowledge.

This claim makes a major presumption: that this small group of abstract entities is sufficiently comprehensive for the enormous task. This is crucial because any framework must have the components for its task. The test of the structural strength of the categories will be how they operate in the construction of experiences and concept and word meanings. We will see that the categories have an extraordinary capacity to construct a vast array of cognitive formations and to provide a hierarchical substructure for the others. While there are some apparent gaps in the categorial schema they have an ability to paper over the cracks.

Bearing this categorial function is a huge burden for the twentyfive (excluding x) categories in Table 1. How can such a claim be substantiated? Where is the evidence? This is the task of the rest of this paper. I will address it in several stages, first by highlighting the remarkable internal structure of the table of categories that is not fully evident at first perusal; then by establishing that the categories are not just features of human experience, but that they have a biological nature and occur in other forms of life; and third, by demonstrating that the categories have a far wider role in word meaning than in sematicity.

There is, however, one piece of evidence that should be crystal clear. This is the self-evidence of the sematic meanings in our own cognition and experiences. If we consider the categories in Table 1 it is not hard to recognize that most have a self-evident necessity in the enterprise of human life, a necessity as self-evident as that of certain chemical elements, a specific range of temperatures, the absence of certain forms of radiation and a degree of stability in the environment that are vital for human life. The meanings are blatantly obvious as structural elements of our experience individually, but the nature of their vital collective function is much less obvious.

6.2 The structure and nature of the categories.

The alphabetical layout of the sematic meanings in Table 1 gives barely an inkling of their real nature. In Table 3 I have made several changes. First, in anticipation of the next sub-section, I have renamed the categories as zoemes, the units of structure of biological interaction, the -emes of life. Second, they have been put into a more logical order and consolidated in recognition of the polarities that exist within and between the categories. Finally, they have been divided into two groups that have very different functions.

Table 3: The biological Zoeme.

Alpha zoemes

Materiality / non-materiality (m)
Surface / particularity (f, p)
Bodily roundness / lifelessness (b)
Compression / extension (n, y, j)
Largeness / smallness (a, i)
Display / concealedness (l)
Openness / concealment (o)
Intensity of energy / rest (r)
Physical intensity / featurelessness (k)
Action / inertness (a)

Beta zoemes

Positivity / negativity (d)
Fullness / emptiness (v)
Abundance / paucity (g)
Possession, self-interest / hostility, threat (h)
Uncertainty / certainty (q)
Displacement / conformity (u)
Somatic affect / tactility  (s, t)
Communal world / physical world (c, e)
Existential value (w)

            The polarities in italics are notional as I have not actually identified them in language.

This division into two distinct types, the alpha and beta zoemes, and the incorporation of polarity are the two most important structural features of this presentation. The alpha zoemes are parameters of our cognition of the physical world of objects, situations and activities. In order to know the world we must know these categories a priori. This small set of parameters is able to operate, so it seems, as the structural framework for the full detail of our perceptual experience. How do they come to have such a function? They are simply, I propose, central parameters of the physical world that are necessary for the interaction of human beings and their immediate environment. Their existence is derived from the fundamental topology and physical character of the world as we experience it. We (and other organisms) must be able to distinguish between mere surfaces and particulate things, for example. The alpha zoemes have no existence of their own––there is no such thing as pure surface or particularity––they are a priori and innate elements of our cognitive systems. They form the necessary channels, as it were, within which our hugely varied sensory experience flows. They provide a structure for the ontology of the physical world and they are indispensable for what we experience with our senses.

The beta zoemes have an entirely different character. They are principles according to which we respond to specific entities and events. They have a normative function and an affective, emotional character that is absent from the first set. I propose that the full, rich range of our affective feelings that are operative at different levels at every moment of our waking existence, every nuance of our affective lives, is structurally dependent on the beta zoemes operating either independently or in combination. The proof of these two puddings can only be provided by observing the full set of zoemes in operation in word and concept meaning in Sections 7 and 8. In the interim the breadth and depth of the function of the zoemes will gather some support from the recognition that the Zoeme (the full set of zoemes) is not a purely human phenomenon.

The random character of the zoemes in Table 1 is replaced by the appearance of structure and systematicity in Table 3. This is a remarkable result that begins to impart greater credence to their categorial function.

6.3 The zoemes in other species.

I believe a strong case can be made that the zoemes are extremely primitive in evolutionary terms because human sensory and affective faculties are not preconditions for their operation. I have called them experiential categories in the human context, the highest genera of the species of human experience but how could they have a parallel role in animal life? Animals and organisms lack experience as we know it, as dependent on self-awareness and the ability to conceptualize and to manipulate concepts ‘off-line’. They have interactions with the environment that are very different in character, but no less effective in terms of survival. I propose that the zoemic system is operative in the interactions of all animals and organisms in that they are structurally necessary for their perception of objects, whatever the sensory system. This implies that they must possess an equivalent to the affectivities that motivate our interactions with the world around us. Animals and organisms lack affectivities such as ours but something similar motivates their action and inaction. I believe the beta zoemes of Table 3 can reasonably be interpreted as specific inherited motivators of response that operate in an autonomic manner, independent of any conscious awareness or control. They operate at a structural biological level.

I will take the bat as an example by asking a not very original question: What is it like to be a bat? Unlike the American philosopher Thomas Nagel (see below) who first asked the question, I have a positive story to tell. I propose that a bat experiences the world using exactly the same interactional structure as we use but without the range of supplementary elements that evolution has endowed us with for constructing concepts. This is a small thought experiment.

 What is the character of a bat’s ‘experience’ of the world? What drives the actions of a bat? For a bat hanging in a dark cave or a tree, or flying off at dusk in search of food, the tactile and ultrasonic experiences of materiality and surface are as fundamental as they are for us. So is the spatiality and manifestness that it realizes in its very different perceptual mode. A moth in flight expresses particularity for the bat while contraction and reduction is involved in the bat’s sensation as it fastens its radar grip on its target in mid-flight. The search for food is driven by the twin zoemic motivations, abundance in its polar aspect, deprivation, and the polar aspect of possession, satisfaction––dispossession, lack. The failure to capture a moth in expressed as displacement, dissonance that is a motivation to restore the equilibrium of its polar consonance. Bat affectivity is autonomic, an innate genetically driven sensing of the favorable and the unfavorable, of degrees of fullness or emptiness of specific sensory and affective qualities that guide behaviour. The bat’s innate feeling of existential value, a precursor of our sense of the value of life, is equally critical to its will to survive and multiply. It is the vital battery in the genes that powers this creature. Intensity of energy is the battery’s output, the bat’s intense, focused activity. Its equivalent of our sense of inwardness, of the activity of mind, is not, of course, an awareness of mental activity or of a self in any conscious mode. It is the sheer activity in neural networks, the operation of the categories at the level of chemistry and electric impulses. It is the inside of the membrane of bat-activity through which it interacts with the world and utilizes the world’s abundance, such as is available to this creature. Possession is the bat’s feeling for its hanging place in the crowded cave, its own corner of the world, and its procreative mates, its hunting territory, as well as the satisfaction of capturing food. Uncertainty, displacement, emptiness are the void states it constantly seeks to rectify in scanning surfaces and spaces, and in hunting, feeding, mating. The two lifeworlds are distinct but interlocking, the community of cave or tree and marauding flocks, and the physical world that its senses construct in its radar screen view of the landscape. The zoemes are integral elements of bat existence that are written in the genes that are the foundations of its behaviour.

Thomas Nagel asked the question, what is it like to be a bat? in a famous 1974 paper of that title (which was not an exercise in ethology, but an investigation of the philosophical mind-body problem). Recognizing that bats are “a fundamentally alien form of life” he concluded that we simply cannot know what it is like. His question related to the subjective actuality of bat experience that requires more than an imaginative projection of our own inner experience of what it is like to be a human being into that of a bat. The experiences of a bat “have....a specific subjective character which it is beyond our ability to conceive.” He went on to observe that, “we cannot expect ever to accommodate in our language a detailed description of....bat phenomenology....” He noted further that “reflection on what it is like to be a bat seems to lead us...to the conclusion that there are facts that do not consist in the truth of propositions expressible in human language.”

Nagel’s conclusions go too far. We now have a new factor to help us to understand what it is like. This is, amazingly, a factor that lies within our language, that was under Nagel’s nose, and that can allow us to generate a clearer description of the bat’s phenomenology than he could contemplate. We can begin to know from the inside what it is like to be a bat. This is not an anthropomorphic reading of bat experience. The zoemes are necessarily part of the cognitive make-up of bats and other ‘alien forms of life’ as they are of the make-up of human beings. This experiential or interactional structure provides a way to see, however darkly, into other creatures’ unique views of the world and even their phenomenology. The fact that they possess nothing closely resembling our consciousness, self-awareness, and our ability to conceptualize and symbolize does not detract from the significance of this shared primal experiential structure, although it limits the degree to which we can conceive the intimate experience of these creatures, even with these clues.

This picture of animal zoemic interaction reinforces the understanding of the zoemes as primordial parameters of human experience, as the very fabric of our existence on which the full picture of our interactive experience is embroidered. We can now see these categories that the semes are based on in a different light. They are profoundly biological. I have described the zoemes elsewhere as the dimensions of the space of biological interaction that parallel the classical four dimensions that are parameters of the physical world. As such the zoemes are prerequisites for sensory perception in any species.

These are unprecedented claims that may appear to be difficult to substantiate. However I believe that is not the case. As I noted above, in the human situation, I believe there is a glaring and robust self-evidence in the primal role of the Zoeme across the whole biological sphere. No organism can exist without the zoemic framework. If all the other prerequisites for life were in place but not the Zoeme, the processes of biology could not operate. Organisms must be able to utilize appropriate units of the Zoeme for the interaction with their surroundings that is fundamental to any life process.

This might seem to collapse the proposals of this paper into vacuity. If the elements of the Zoeme are individually indispensible to life then they are simple givens––there seems to be no Zoeme with any coherent function of its own. The evidence to the contrary is the full case made in this paper, a case built on the foundation of a function of this collectivity in the meaning of words and, at a more fundamental level, in the structure of the percepts and sensations that are essential for human interaction and our viability as biological systems. The lexicon thus holds the key to the understanding of sentience. Sound symbolism has a function that most of its proponents have never imagined. This is a surprising conclusion to say the least. Its credibility ultimately hinges on the demonstration in the paper that the Zoeme does, in fact, underpin the human ability to form the concepts that are expressed in word meaning. The case for this specific function rests on the evidence I present in the next two sections and that lies in Annex 2. At the same time, the zoemes of Table 3 have an intrinsic credibility in their general biological function.

7. The evolution of concept and word meaning.

In this section I will attempt to outline a new model of concept and lexical meaning that is equally applicable to our own concepts and words and to the concepts of pre-linguistic hominids that were on the threshold of language. This is a three-part model. Two of the parts are well known although one of them, schematic mental images (or gestalts), is somewhat controversial. The other, the Zoeme, has not previously been recognized. I suggest that the Zoeme has the nature of a missing link that allows a more satisfactory model of word meaning to be constructed and may provide a strong lead on how language emerged. The third element is descriptive features that, for us, may be formed in language.

7.1 Concept meaning in pre-linguistic hominids and human beings.

If the Zoeme is a primal element of biology, as I postulate, it is likely to have been implicated in the evolution of concepts and words. I will begin with the way in which lexical meaning may have emerged from the immediate pre-linguistic cognition of the precursors of verbal man. I am assuming that these early hominids, with brains very similar to ours, were endowed with the ability to conceptualize, that is, to have at least a limited range of concepts independent of the presence of their objects––off-line, as it were––and also with a non-linguistic language of thought in which the Zoeme was involved in the construction of the concepts that were part of it. These concepts were the ‘words’ of this language of thought that preceded any language, and the zoemes were its ‘alphabet’. (The notion of a pre-linguistic language of thought is controversial as many authorities believe that thought is necessarily dependent on language).  I assume, then, that simple core concepts such as laugh (v.), difficult, flat, there, like (v.), antelope were available to these people, as significant nodes of their first-hand experience and in their off-line cognition and thought.

My proposal is that such decoupled off-line concepts were constituted (in part) from configurations of zoemes that were, in turn, derived from their occurrence in direct experience by way of perception and first-hand knowledge. I am assuming that zoemes were, as they are now, involved structurally in perception, although heavily obscured, as now, by the vividness of the full sensory image. Thus the same zoemes that were present in these early hominids’ perception of someone laughing––such as the l, display zoeme––were present in their concept laugh. As a consequence we can postulate the zoemic configurations for such pre-linguistic concepts on the basis that laughter had much the same physical and affective characteristics and meaning then as it has now. We can write this configuration in the manner of a formula that uses the zoemes’ categorial nature as building blocks of concept meaning. This model implies that concept meaning is not atomic or indivisible, contrary to the view of some authorities. It is componential, built up from discrete elements. In some instances a surprising number of zoemes are involved.

Such configurations, I believe, represent at least the structure of the meanings. In some concepts clear lineaments of the full meaning become apparent through their configurations of zoemes but other semantic constituents are necessary for disambiguation (gestalts and descriptive features in language). In developing this approach to concept and word meaning I have adopted a number of conventions that are suggested by the zoemic data. They include the following:

1. The initial three or four zoemes in a formula have a taxonomic function that indicates in very general terms (mainly physical or community life-world, materiality and action), the experiential zone to which the word refers. The following round-bracketed entries spell out, more or less, in a series of further zoemes, the structure of the core meaning, the word’s immediately cognizable sense. 2. The zoemes operate additively to generate the structure of the core meaning with any sub-bracketed entries operating as sub-elements. 3. Polarities apply, but where they are not indicated the nominal (first) meaning of Table 1 and the Annexes applies. (The fuller descriptions of the zoemes set out in the Annexes are not used in this section).

The formula for laugh is quite substantial. In plain English the meaning in zoemic form is: a concept that belongs to the community life-world, that involves an action in a material medium (this is the taxonomic element); and that can be characterized as, physically intense, energetic, involving humour, is extended, has a psycho-somatic affect, and is displayed conspicuously; and has a positive and full character and existential value (being a fundamental, basic-level concept). Or, as a formula using, for convenience, the letters associated with the zoemes in semes: [c, a, m, (k, r, j, y, l, s, d+, v+, w)]. This zoemic configuration provides a substantial delineation of the concept’s meaning, but what additional factor is needed to remove ambiguity is a question I will defer for a short time.      

This way of viewing concept meaning may strike the reader as strange but the combination of the zoemes in word and concept meanings can be tested introspectively and experimentally (although this has not so far been done). One reason why the approach seems so strange is that it presents a string of components of concept meaning whereas we normally experience meaning fully dressed, in an instant. The string is a result of the analysis, but meaning can be broken down into components in the same way as we can identify the notes of a chord. This is an apt analogy for the way we can, with some effort, ‘feel’ the composite zoemic meanings of concepts.

A feature of these formulas is the frequent occurrence of the zoemes v, fullness and emptiness of value and w, existential value. Both are very pervasive in concept and word meaning in the core vocabulary. The first, in its positive mode, often operates mainly as a marker of emphasis, underlining as it were the salience or value of the non-taxonomic zoemes. The second is a marker of core words. It indicates that the concept has a central, basic-level status in human experience.

To continue with the examples, the formulas I propose for the pre-linguistic concepts, and our own are: difficult (as in thinking about crossing a flooded stream) [c, m–, y, (k, n, r, u, q, s, d–, v+, w)], or: a community life-world concept of something that is non-material (a frame of mind) and ongoing (the combination of m and y indicates the adjectival nature of the concept); that can be characterized as involving physical intensity, compression (concentration) and intensity of energy, displacement/discomfort and uncertainty, a psychosomatic affect together with negativeness; but that has a high salience and existential status.

The formulas for the remaining concepts are: flat: [e, m, y, (f, y, l, w)] or physical life-world; relating to materiality; adjectival; involving surface, extension, display and existential value; there: [e, m, ((t, y), l, o, q–, v+, w)] or physical life-world, implying materiality; involving tactility and extension (pointing) and spatial display; definitiveness; specific and existential value; like (v.): [c, m–, a, ((h, g, s,), d+, v+, w)] or a community life-world non-material act; involving self-interest, abundance, psycho-somatic affect; positiveness; specific and existential value; antelope: [e, m, p, (b, r, (g, h), v+)] or a physical life-world particulate entity; having bodily roundness, being energetic; involving abundance that can be acquired, and having high specific value (for early hunters).

These formulas delineate the meaning of the concepts by the non-linguistic zoemic categories to various degrees of semantic satisfaction, but none of them lead to a fully unambiguous meaning. There is a missing component. The zoemes have an important function in delineating meaning, but pre-linguistic hominids, like us, could not have operated with concept meanings that were purely zoemic. The weakest formula is that for antelope. This is indicative of an important aspect of the situation I am describing. Concepts for the many entities in the natural environment that would have been the subject of everyday interactions in this early world––types of animals, fruit, plants, for example––have meanings that are similar to antelope in that their zoemic formulas often fall far short of unambiguous descriptions of their referents that generally have salient distinctive perceptual characteristics. The formula for antelope could designate many animals wanted as food. It would have had limited value on its own. In contrast, I propose, the other examples I have used have a much more pertinent zoemic configuration that has a palpable effect in constructing meaning. The meaning of difficult, for example, can be almost, but not quite, read off its zoemic constituents. So how are semantically unambiguous concepts (and word meanings) constructed?

There is only one alternative and that is a highly schematic perceptual ‘image’ of the referent that occurs in association with the configuration of zoemes. I call this a gestalt or gestalt schema because this psychological term describes this aspect of word meaning effectively. Gestalts can be characterized by the following features (Allport, 1955, pp. 113-114): 1. The notion of form as a fundamental law that determines the way things appear to a perceiver. ‘Such forms occur within the nervous system or brain as macroscopic states or physiological configurations which are ‘isomorphic’ with the configuration of the percept to which they give rise’. 2. A character of wholeness ‘that manifests itself in the relationships between its parts’. ‘The perceiving of relationships is an essential aspect of wholeness in experience’. 3. The configuration has boundaries. It is self-bounded in contrast with the ground. ‘There is organization within a configuration and with relation to its surroundings’.

As an example of how these characteristics of gestalts operate, the gestalt of difficult has a visceral and kinesthetic form, a tension in the body as though wrestling with an issue, a kind of somatic simulation of the concept that is applicable in any context. This distinctive form has an isomorphic (similarity) relationship with situations in the world, a distinctive wholeness with identifiable zoemic parts, and a bounded character that distinguishes it from its contextual ground. These gestalts can be in any sensory modality and can be composites of more than one modality. The term has a distinct advantage over alternatives such as image, prototype, exemplar in that it provides a specific medium for core word meaning––neural states in sensori-motor and affective regions of the brain––that is appropriate for any modality and all grammatical types of words. It is also surprisingly effective with words with abstract meanings as was evident in difficult and as I will demonstrate further. In addition gestalt is indicative of the strongly distinctive nature that the schemas necessarily have, and of a well-integrated composite.

In laugh the gestalt is composite––auditory, visual and kinesthetic; in flat it is tactile and/or visual; in dark it is purely visual, although an absence of perception; in there the gestalt is tactile, the almost-touching of pointing, but with an implicit element of vision; while in like it is indelibly affective as is expressed in the inner sub-group of zoemes. The antelope gestalt is predominantly visual, a quite vivid image with the key salient features highlighted, but with the zoemes continuing to play a structural role in the full concept. Gestalts of this kind would have been the basis of concepts for most of the physical entities that populated these hominids’ world. But there is a final component that I will describe shortly.

I speculate that zoemic formulations combined with gestalt schemas in this way to produce effective concept meaning for early hominids in their private pre-linguistic language of thought. My practice is to add the schemas in front of formulas in the form of an asterisk. There is no more descriptive way to incorporate this important component short of resorting to hieroglyphics.

But there must also have been yet a further semantic element in antelope, one derived from familiarity with the animal and its habitat and modes of behavior such as its timidity and its manner of running, perhaps or its look when startled. This element must have consisted of semantic features necessary to give meanings their enormous power, clarity and versatility. In pre-linguistic hominids this would seem to have consisted of a satellites of associated images. After the emergence of language this aspect of meaning often took on linguistic forms as verbal descriptions and definitions but for these hominids they would have been perceptual supplements to the core concept meaning. This element is not required for most core concepts (like flat) but becomes increasingly necessary for those that are complex in meaning and particularly for specialist terms.

Thus we have a three-part structure of concept meaning in the pre-linguistic concepts of these early hominids: 1. the zoemic structural nucleus, 2. the sensory and affective gestalt schema and 3. a range of supplementary perceptual descriptive features. We can visualize this as a concentric structure. We find the same structure in human concepts and word meanings as I will discuss shortly.

An important aspect of this model is that the zoemes were not (and are not) just an adjunct to the gestalt schema––they form its structure. This is evidenced by the prominence of the zoemes in the meaning of the wide range of concepts that are central to our experience and our vocabulary, and must have been the core of the conceptual lexicon of pre-linguistic hominids. The basis of this structure is their function as the structure for core human cognition. We cannot see, let alone have conceptual knowledge of a cow without utilizing parameters such as materiality and particularity (it must be distinguished from the background grass), the bodily roundness that is characteristic of most animals, its productivity (of milk) and its docility (or lack of intensity of energy) relative to many other animals. The gestalt is necessary for concepts and percepts of all kinds and the Zoeme is its essential nucleus.

7.2 Meaning in pre-conceptual species.

I believe the history of the evolution of meaning in this non-linguistic sense can be extended speculatively but credibly far back beyond the pre-linguistic hominid era to animals and organisms that lacked the ability to form concepts and that were thus, to a large degree locked into immediate perception-based interaction with the world. But how can there be meaning without words or concepts, without brains, even? I will attempt no more than a quick sketch of my proposal here. The era prior to pre-linguistic hominids is represented by the ancestors of species of animals and other creatures around us, cows, horses, cats, bats, birds, fish, insects etc. It is hardly surprising, given our lack of understanding of the nature of our own cognition, that there is little agreement on the nature of that of animals we are familiar with, let alone others. It is central to my argument, however, that the Zoeme is the nucleus of animal and organismic cognition (which is essentially of an on-line perceptual nature, cognizing and recognizing what is directly sensed), and interaction with the physical environment including its own and other species.         

I have used the term biological meaning for any animal or other organism’s faculty of forming ‘cognitions’ of its environment, and I have defined the term as simply knowing how to respond to perceived entities, situations and conditions. An experienced entity has biological meaning for an organism if it knows how to respond to it. For a dog, a bone has meaning in that it knows exactly what to do with it but the bone is virtually meaningless to a cow. For an amoeba a particle with certain characteristics has meaning that results in its ingestion. I have proposed that the two-part Zoeme is involved in the formation of such kinds of meaning, the alpha zoemes in facilitating identification and the normative beta zoemes in evoking response in association with inherited activators such as, for a microorganism, a point on a temperature gradient or the presence of a chemical compound at a specific concentration. This ‘semantic’ faculty belongs, I propose, to all kinds of living organisms. It is a prerequisite of sentient life. In early evolutionary eras this meaning did not involve vision or a brain. The only prerequisites were a sensory system to enable external entities, events or conditions to be identified, a phenotype that connected identification with response, and the zoemes as the intermediate framework within which inherited triggers could operate in way that enabled organisms to interact with the surrounding world adaptively.

It might be argued that organisms’ sensory and responsive systems can operate on their own––that the zoemes are redundant to the explanation. Organisms sense and respond in ways that are determined purely by genetics. But this overlooks the true nature of the zoemes. I have insisted that the alpha zoemes are specific parameters of the topology of the world and their beta counterparts are necessary principles that govern biological interaction. They are an integral part of the framework of natural laws of biology. I have described the zoemes as dimensions of the space of biological interaction. These dimensions are essential for the microstructure of interaction from moment to moment. They are the sinews of meaning that enable interactive mechanisms to operate.

In this interactive ‘semantic’ system of organisms a number of zoemes are normally implicated in the configuration associated with a single activating event just as they are in a human concept. For example, the configuration for a fish in identifying a predator, perhaps a larger fish, might be: *[e, m, p, (r, l, s, u, d­2, q1, v1)]. (For meaning of subscripted zoemes see Annex 1). The zoemes are parameters of the innate activator. Their operation is instantiated in various ways in the creature’s physiological system. I suggest that: e is expressed in the creature’s sensory orientation to its immediate physical environment; m in its ability to distinguish physical things from quirks of illumination; p represents the necessary ability to differentiate figure from background, the dark shadow from the surrounding murk; r indicates a moving object, l is its manifest appearance; u indicates an ominous displacement from a more normal benign situation; s represents the somatic ‘affective’ response that links recognition and responsive action; d2 is an innate negative evaluation of the object represented by the schema; q1 specifies that the evaluation is definitive; v+ is an intensification of the whole configuration. The whole square bracketed part of the formula is the essential structure of the organism’s cognition of its situation at that instant, including its response imperative. The round-bracketed section with its five beta zoemes is the central component that triggers response in a manner determined by the creature’s sensori-motor system. We can see from this that the zoemes are integral to the perceptual schema at the biological level. The ominous approaching form has been invested with a rich meaning that demands immediate action. This sensori-motor and evaluative event in the creature’s interactive behavior would be void without the inherent structure that is represented by the zoemic formula. But what does the asterisk signify in this situation? It represents the actual sensory trigger, the gestaltic percept of the looming predator. The following zoemes are the event’s necessary structure. An organism’s response to a sensation is an acknowledgement that the sensation possesses the interactional dimensions that it is genetically predisposed to respond to in a specific manner. There is a relationship of similarity between the parameters of the sensation as interpreted by the organism and the dimensional configuration that is instatiated in the organism’s soma.

I submit that this analysis is not mere hypothetical speculation, but a simple description of factors that must be present in biological interaction, given the mandatory nature of the Zoeme. This biological scenario provides the ultimate grounding for the function of the Zoeme in language. It is surprising, to say the very least, to find something with such a close relationship with the semantics of word meaning that has apparently prevailed across the whole natural world for over three billion years.

7.3 The biology of lexical meaning.

We must return to words. How does the notion of biological meaning apply to language? How can the definition of meaning as knowing how to respond be reconciled with the many uses of words in language? What is biological about ‘Pass the pepper, please’? Language use is a very different form of behavior from the direct encounter and response of other kinds of biological and human experience. We are very different creatures from amoebas and bats. The crucial difference in this context stems from the emergence of conceptualization that I am assuming occurred in the era of late pre-sapiens hominids. The ability to reconstruct the salient features of a perceptual experience off-line was a hugely important turning point in biology. Knowing how to respond was decoupled from immediate response and also from genetic triggers operating automatically through zoemic channels. This disconnected knowledge was integrated into a large network of knowledge of the world that created the ability in early hominids and their successors to develop new ways to respond and new forms of behavior. They were, I believe, endowed with a primitive language of thought that utilized this decoupled knowing how to respond in creative ways. Concepts, with their nuclei of zoemes, embodied this knowledge, but they had become mental symbols in complex neural processes rather than instruments of direct activation. They could be combined in innumerable ways in the primal non-linguistic language of thought.

When, in due course, language emerged as gesture or speech, its symbols also embodied the same decoupled knowing how to respond. But they were units in acts of communication, vocal or gestural. The knowing inherent in words could be used to construct larger configurations that could be amalgamated with the contributions of other individuals in deciding on responsive action by one or more individuals. Single words with their zoemic structures and other semantic components were necessary nodes in such configurations. The zoemes themselves continued to be foundational in the new complexities of interaction of this species with its environment and equally in its social interactions. As they had been throughout biological time, the zoemes are the powerhouse of interaction for Homo sapiens but now they are coupled with a more potent form of intelligence that is derived from conceptualization, thought, language and communication. But without the zoemes and their necessary gestaltic complements language could not have emerged and would not be able to operate.

8.  The zoemic analysis of word meaning.

In understanding a word we interpret the process of its semantic making and the contents of its makeup in a microsecond. We generally do this with the aid of memory and context, which can provide many clues but the sight and sound of words is the activator of our comprehension of meaning. These two aspects of the physical form of words can provide some clues to meaning at an intuitive level. This is illustrated by onomatopoiea and phonesthesia and now, the seme. But the main function of the Zoeme in our understanding of word meaning is to provide an experiential structure, a necessary grounding in the world, a structure for the simulation that is a fundamental element of the meaning of core words. In most of these words––in the bulk of the words in sentences like those of this paragraph––this experiential structure has a powerful presence. This presence exists at an intuitive level but familiarity with the zoemes can lift our awareness. However we will see that there are important classes of words in which the zoemic structure is weak and has only a secondary role.

8.1 The Zoeme in lexical meaning.

Some examples of the zoemes at work were provided in the last section but here I want to illustrate more fully the capacity of zoematicity, in association with gestalts, to simulate a variety of features of the world, particularly those of a more or less abstract kind that can be regarded as a more stringent test than the run-of-the-mill examples of lexical semantic analysis––dog, bachelor, doorknob and so on. I need to re-emphasize that this analysis is still tentative and my attempts are highly provisional simply because the method is new and it has not yet been subject to review. I am aware that there are a number of possibilities for refining and improving the method.

The test for the proposals that I am advocating is in their operation in concepts and words. In Section 7 I gave some illustrations but the weight of likely skepticism requires further demonstration. In this section my aim is to establish more confidence in the function of the zoemes through illustrating their presence in the meanings of several broad types of word meaning. At the same time this will further demonstrate how similarity works in the construction of meaning. I will discuss three words in some detail first to familiarize the reader with the method. Then I will analyze eight words with reasonably complex and abstract meanings and finally I will discuss several types of word meaning that have distinctive characteristics to demonstrate the different ways meanings are built.

I need to spell out in a little more detail than in Section 7 the way the zoemic formulas are composed. The following additional practices are observed.

1. Fuller zoemic descriptions with subscripts to identify the range of meanings in zoemes as set out in the Annexes are used here. 2. There are several zoemes that are used taxonomically as well as in the body of the analysis: c and e simply indicate which of the lifeworld domains is applicable; m is indicative of material entities, and m2 with indirect associations with materiality; the polar m8 is generally indicative of either a mental or an abstract quality; y following m signifies an ongoing state, i.e. that the word is an adjective, adverb or, with the addition of p, a preposition; and a indicates that the word is a verb. 3. P has an additional function within the descriptive section (in round brackets) of indicting the number of arguments of a verb as (p,p) or as reciprocity in meaning (p:p). 4. The use of the v and w zoemes requires some explanation. Both occur very frequently, especially in the core language. The v1 zoeme represents fullness of explicit value of associated zoemes (in a sub-bracketed element) while v2 imparts intrinsic positive values. The w zoeme has no substantive meaning so far as I have been able to determine, but acts as a marker of a core word with all that implies in terms of centrality to human experience.

A preliminary point: it will be obvious from the analysis that I have not stuck literally to all the descriptors of the zoemes as given in the Annexes. The zoemes are not set in concrete because their precise scope is difficult to pin down. They have an intrinsically fuzzy nature that is necessary for their function of painting or acting-out an infinite variety of semantic forms. Both associated zoemes and the gestalt schemas help to fine-tune individual zoemes in a semantic formula such as determining which of the range of values of n prevails in a word.

8.2 Preliminary examples.

First, I will work through a few examples in some detail. There are difficulties in discussing word meanings in isolation in that synonomies are unresolved and the effects of context in attuning meaning is absent. In these and the later examples I am taking meanings in their normal paradigmatic sense.

Urgent – *[c, m8, y, (h4, u, r, l, s, d2, v1)] as in the need for action is urgent. The word denotes a social life-world (c) non-material (here affective) state (y). In the descriptive sequence h4 specifies a human subjective condition (I am taking the word as denoting an affective state rather than an objective one); u represents the sense of displacement, dislocation or of something out of kilter; r indicates intensity of energy in seeking a specific outcome; l reflects the conspicuous awareness of the state; s that there is a psycho-somatic affect; d2, the typical association of negativity; and v1, the high degree of inherent salience of the state. The schema associated with the formula is of an affective visceral and kinesthetic amalgam that implies a state of awareness of the need to deal with a situation. There is no requirement for supplementary descriptive material for disambiguation.

The second example is feel in the physical sense. The formula is [c, m2, a, ((p,p), h4, t, f, l, o, q2, v1, w)]. The term normally relates to the human social sphere (c), implies materiality (m2), is a verb (a) that has two arguments (the person who feels and whatever is felt), it involves a subject, tactility and surfaces, display and spatiality, is normally definitive, is value-laden, and has existential import. The schema is strongly sensory but adds little to the zoemes. In its other, affective, sense the formula would be [c, m8, a, ((p,p), h4, s, (l, i4), d1, q2, v1, w)]. This is a personal (h4) emotional (s) event that is displayed internally (l, i4), generally has a positive flavour (d1), but if not, this last zoeme would become negative (d2). The feel schema, which has a highly somatic affectivity in both cases, and a prominent sense of tactility in the first, is largely reflected in the formula. Touch has a meaning similar to that of the first feel, but the distinction between them is clear in its zoemic formula, *[c/e, m2, a, ((p,p), (t, p), l, o, q2, v1, w)]. In this case a human subject is not mandatory and the implication of a particulate sensation replaces that of surface.   

The next example, anxious, denotes an affective state that is close to urgent but the composition of its meaning is distinctive. The formula I propose is *[c, m8, y, (h4, s, u, (r, g4, y), d2, v1)]. In anxiety, I believe, displacement and negativity in association with an unproductive, extended intensity of energy are dominant in the form of the affect. The second y reflects the drawn-out character of anxiety. The g4, seeking, grasping, is central to the word’s meaning. Another significant difference is the absence of l, which reflects a typical inclination for anxiety to be near the threshold of consciousness much of the time while urgency is uppermost in mind. The schema has a quite different affectivity being less kinesthetic than those of the previous two words. Neither of these words needs to draw on the third zone of meaning in order to be clear and unambiguous. In all three the zoemic formulas are surprisingly effective in delineating the core meaning but the gestalts are still indispensible for fine-tuning meaning.

By way of total contrast I will use an example much beloved by philosophers of language, bachelor. This word has been used extensively to illustrate various arguments about meaning, reference and representation. I propose that the formula for bachelor is: *[c, m, ((p, h4), b, g, l, d1, v1)]––a community life-world material human entity characterized by bodily roundness, abundance, display and fullness of these values. This is impossibly unproductive of specific meaning. It could describe a weight-lifter or an athlete. A schema and other semantic features are necessary to establish meaning satisfactorily. Something that is not mentioned in the literature is that the word actually has two associated but distinct references, a young eligible bachelor and an old bachelor beyond the likelihood of marriage. The visual schema for each is quite distinct. In the first case (above) the formula uses the b, g, l structure that can represent shapely bodily form and its manifest attractiveness and an associated positivity. In old bachelor we find, instead, a deflation of bodily roundness, displacement and negativity that reflect a man passed his use-by date in terms of marriage and reproduction––((b, v5), u, d2). However, in both cases, the essential semantic feature, unmarried is not amenable to zoemic or schematic representation. The formula cannot distinguish a young bachelor from a bridegroom. The meaning necessarily involves an input from the third concentric zone of the model.

8.3 Words with abstract meaning.

The first and third examples above are abstract words but I will provide some further examples of such words before others from the core lexicon in order to highlight the strength of the case for the role of the zoemes and the three-part model of meaning that I am proposing. Abstract words are generally regarded as living proof that similarity is a dead duck in terms of illuminating how word meaning works. I think the examples belie that description.

1. Position - *[e, m2, (p, o, n, l, t, q2)]. This is a physical life-world concept that is not material in itself but is associated with materiality. The bracketed descriptive set conveys the central element of the meaning, a spatial, focused particularity that is manifest/visible, tangible/testable and definitive. The nature of the schema of the word used in a general sense seems to be proprioceptive, an obscure sense of one’s own being in a position.

2. Different - *[c/e, m2, y, ((p:p), u, l, t, q1, d2, w)] The word can relate to either life-world. There is a state associated with materiality. The first sub-bracketed set is indicative of the reciprocity that is inherent here while the rest of the formula describes the central semantic content, a sense of manifest, palpable, displacement, with an element of indeterminacy, a vague negativity, and the existential value of a core word. The gestalt schema is hard to distinguish from the zoemic description. It seems to have a visceral and affective character.

3. Influence (n.) - *[e/c, m8/m­2­, (p, a1, n, g, y, l3, d1)] Here we have a specific state of affairs that can exist in physical and human contexts but that is abstract but associated with materiality. It involves activity, is constrained/focussed, productive, ongoing, covert and is (generally) an advantageous state of affairs. The schema is obscure but it can be conceived, perhaps, as a physical acting-out of the zoemic formula.

4. Freedom - *[c, m8, ((h4, p, y), (n3, r2), s, d1, v1)].  I am using the word as referring to personal freedom. The descriptive part of the formula describes a personal state that is unconstrained, free of effort, affectively coloured, positive and of full explicit value. The schema again reflects the zoemic formula closely, a negative kinesthesia.

5. Principle - *[c, m8, (p, i4, q2, (y, o), l, v2)] Here we have a communal life-world particularity that is abstract, definitive, extended (conveying the sense of universality (y, o)), manifest and possesses fullness of intrinsic value. The schema, which is of an obscure and complex nature seems to incorporate the word’s sense proprioceptively together with the definitiveness element.

6. Necessary - *[c/e, m8, y, (p, n, l, q2, s, d1, v2, w)] The descriptive part of the formula indicates a particular condition or state that is of a compressed or compacted nature (reduced to its essence), that is manifest, definitive, has a positive affective aspect and has fullness of intrinsic value and is a basic-level category. The schema is of a kinesthetic kind, reflected in a degree of tension in the gut or the jaw, perhaps.

7. Cause (n.) - *[e/c, m2, (p, (a1, l3, n), g, q2, d1, v2)]. This is a physical or community life-world concept that involves materiality. The descriptive section specifies a particularity that is active in a covert but focused way, productive and definitive and exhibits positiveness and fullness of intrinsic value. Given the abstractness of the term the formula is surprisingly effective in describing the content but it still needs a gestalt. This is sensori-motor in nature, reflecting a sense of action in causes that involve human agency.

8. Believe - *[c, m8, a, ((p,p), (h4, l, i4), q2, s, d1, v2, w)] This is a two-argument verb (represented by (p,p)). It relates to: a human mental act relating to a second entity. This is a subjective act that is displayed internally, is definitive, involves a somatic affect, has a positive aspect and has intrinsic and existential value. This is a highly descriptive formula. The schema is little more than a psycho-somatic amplification of the formula, especially the definitiveness and internal display constituents.

Three main points arise. First, the zoemes have a more prominent and surprisingly effective role in forming the structure of these words’ meanings that might have been expected to be resistant to this analysis simply because the meanings are abstract. In fact some of the formulas can almost be read as definitions.  Second, the schemas play a necessary role in the full shaping of unambiguous meanings, but while they are distinctive, they often have an obscure and multi-modal nature. The zoemic configurations and the gestalts are tightly integrated. This is in contrast to some other major types of word meaning where schemas are more clear-cut and have a more dominant role in establishing well-defined meaning. Finally, the analysis of core abstract terms provides impressive testimony of the validity of the zoemic/schematic model. It is equally testimony to the similarity principle. The zoemes, operating in neural networks that are intimately associated with the body, delineate palpable model-like similarities of what these words denote. This is a major endorsement of the zoeme.

8.4 The main classes of word meaning.

It remains for me to present the fuller picture of the constitution of word meaning across the lexicon with the Zoeme and gestalts in a central position. For this purpose I have found it useful to distinguish a number of classes of words that exhibit some marked differences in the constitution of their meaning that I alluded to earlier. It is not generally necessary for me to undertake further analyses of individual word meanings (although I will do so in a few cases) as the main focus here is on exploring the various types of meaning with their distinctive characteristics.

1. Core words. I defined this important group of words in Section 2. In Annex 2 all the core words of English as I have interpreted them are printed in bold. These words are the bread and butter of the lexicon. Their meanings are generally straightforward and easy to grasp. The core group includes the function words that are essential in every sentence and words of all other grammatical types. A high proportion of these words have meanings with a robust zoemic content. However, there are distinct and important sub-sets of core words in some of which the zoemes have a minor role. It is useful to distinguish several sub-sets in this disparate group that are additional to the main part of the core.

1a. Descriptively intense words. These are words that denote everyday physical things that are quite complex in terms of their physical makeup, for example, animals and other biological species, many parts of the human body, items of food, furniture, tools and household utensils––door, pig, ankles, cheese, bed, fork. The meanings generally have zoemic configurations that are ineffective as adequate structures of meaning. They are accordingly heavily dependent on their gestalts, particularly visual images. The descriptions and other features of the third zone of the model are also prominent in this group. Taking door as an example its formula is *[c, m, (p)]. No other descriptive zoemes are applicable. The zoemes fail to provide a structure for meaning. The gestalt is all-important. It is a paradigmatic image of a door of the normal size and shape for a house. There are optional subsidiary images of doorknobs, hinges and locks and descriptive features such as open/shut and accessibility, privacy. The perceptual gestalt provides much of the meaning.

1b. Closed-class grammatical words such of, in, with, and, for are often regarded as resistant to semantic analysis. Their meanings are assumed to lie in their functions. This group includes deictic terms such as a, the, that, this, there etc. and interrogative terms: what, when, where, who, why etc. I will spell out the zoemic analysis of some of these words on account of their ubiquity and the apparent implausibility of what the analysis clearly demonstrates. As most of these words have the same taxonomic markers (c/e, m2) I will provide only the descriptive part of the formulas except for three:

a - * (p, t3, q1,w); the - *(p, t3, q2, w); that - *(p, (t3, y), q2, l, o, w); this - *(p, (t3, n), q2, l, o, w); these - *(m4, (t3, n), q2, l, o, w); there - *((p, o,), (t3, l, y), q2, w); here - *((p, o), (t3, h, n, l), q2, w); of - *((p,p), h, l, w); in - *((p,p), (i2, (o, n), w); on - ((p,p), o, l, w),  with - *((p,p), (h, (o, n), l, w); and - *(m4, y, a2, w); what - *(p, (t3, q), v4, w); when - * c/e, m8, (p, y, q, w); where – (p, o, q, w); who - *[c, m2, (p, b, h4, q, w)]; why - *[c, m8, (p, q, u, y, v4, s, w)].

            If the reader has not become reasonably familiar with the analysis this may look rather impenetrable, but a careful examination of two or three of the examples should suffice to make the conclusion clearer. The result is very surprising. The analysis demonstrates that the meanings of these apparently one-dimensional words are constructed from the zoemes to the extent that the gestalt schemas are almost co-extensive with the zoemic formulas in most cases. This suggests that these words belong to a very primitive stratum of language and cognition.

1c. Qualic words. These words’ referents involve intense and distinctive sensory qualities of a generally simple type sometimes referred to as ‘raw feels’. Prominent examples are colours, tactile sensations, smells and tastes. There is ongoing controversy about the nature and the very existence of qualia as a coherent concept. Some authorities argue that qualia are non-epistemic––they involve sensation but not knowledge. One of their features is their intrinsic simplicity. There are numerous qualic-type words such as blue, warm, wet, sticky, hard, smooth, wavy, salty. The notable point from the current perspective is that the zoemic formulae are generally meager and non-descriptive and the outer zone of the model is virtually inoperative. All the focus is on the simple sensory gestalt. Qualia fly beneath the radar of the zoemic system.          

1d. Phonaesthetic words. This group was described in Section 2. A relatively small proportion of them fall in the core category. Examples of this type of word are the /gl/ cluster including glamour, glance, glare, gleam, glimmer, glint, glisten, glitzy, gloss, glow, glower and the /str/ cluster, straddle, straggle, straight, strain, stream, stretch, , stress, stride, string, strong, struggle. The common elements of meaning can be described as, respectively, kinds of illumination and strenuous (generally bodily) horizontal extension. The sound symbolic elements make a significant contribution to these words’ meanings. The interesting feature here is that they combine strong gestalt schemas and robust zoemic formulas and furthermore that they often exhibit sematicity in one or more of the sounds in the cluster. In some cases all the sounds in the clusters of consonants are sematic. For example, in the last group, the t = tactility and the r = intensity of energy are prominent while the s operates as the bodily rather than the affective aspect of that zoeme. We can see this in stretch with the formula: *[e, m2, a, ((p,p), r, y, t, s, l, v1, w)]. In sound symbolic words the schema is intensely felt, but not at the expense of the zoemic content. These words can involve a triple iconicity: first, sematically, between the articulation of single sounds and facets of meaning; second, between the articulation of the full phoneme cluster with its imitative transitions between sounds and the sound symbolic meaning; and third, in line with all the uses of zoemes, between the zoemic meaning and its sensory motor, somatic or affective representation at the neural level. This must contribute to their value as descriptive words. The phonesthetic phenomenon is a further endorsement of the importance of the similarity principle in the evolution and operation of language.

2. Words with abstract meanings. As we saw above core words with abstract meanings that have limited overt sensory content often display robust zoemic configurations that involve specific affectivities in a way that is not obvious at first sight. Their highly varied gestalt schemas contribute significantly to meaning but their exact nature is often difficult to detect. This important group contains many core words. 

3. Specialist and borrowed words. These are prominent numerically in the lexicon and they continue to make a large contribution to its growth. Meanings are generally complex as they require knowledge of their specific fields such as medicine, music, biology or psychology. Zoemic configurations are often meager and unilluminating and image schemas often have a minor role. Meanings are consequently much more dependent than those in the other groups on the third, outer region of the concentric model. They are language-based to a large degree. Supplementary features such as definitions and descriptions and associations with allied words are prominent. Some examples of words in this category are: acupuncture, bibliography, cobalt, dressage, ecclesiastical, fibrillate, gavotte, hologram, impressionism, jacaranda, kibbutz, lasagna, metamorphose….

There are several broad conclusions that we can draw with considerable confidence from the examples in this section. First, the Zoeme, in its present form (as I have interpreted it), appears to be remarkably effective in contributing to the construction of several types of word meaning that have a central place in the lexicon. Second, the types for which it is not effective are well defined and distinguishable by the prominence of their gestalt schemas and/or their language-dependent descriptive features. Third, the gestalt schema has a necessary but variable role in the construction of unambiguous meaning in most groups. Fourth, word meaning viewed across the lexicon, has a complex composition. The linguistic descriptive component, the third zone of the model occurs widely but carries a much larger share of the semantic burden in certain categories of word meaning, particularly the complex meanings of specialist words. Clearly there is no single pattern for the formation of word meaning. It is a disparate species.

8.5 Stages of meaning-type evolution.

As we have seen, word meaning has a variety of forms. It is not difficult to see how this might have arisen in the emergence and historical development of language. The core words with their intimate connection with everyday life and their intrinsic relationship with the human body are likely to have been the starting-point for language. This includes key closed-class grammatical words that were essential for the construction of sentences. The robust zoemic configurations of most of the core concepts of prelinguistic hominids may, in fact, have been the catalyst for the formation of an early iconically rich language that utilized the zoematicity of percepts and concepts and the ability to mimic it in articulation. Words of other kinds (non-core common words and specialist words) must have also begun to emerge very early. This is because the demands of daily life would have necessitated the development of concepts, such as those relating to specific types of tubers and plants used for food, and various artifacts, with a major dependence on gestalts and the supplementary language-dependent constituents of meaning. Words with more or less abstract meanings may also have begun to develop quite early. A large part of today’s dictionary consists of words derived from a core or other common words e.g. point, point-blank, pointed, pointelle, pointer, pointillism, pointless, pointsman, pointwise. These have meanings that utilize the zoemic-gestaltic constituents of the parent word often with the addition of descriptive material that is required to complete the meaning. Specialist terms have burgeoned more recently and are growing exponentially.

This last type of word dominates the dictionary numerically leaving the core words as a small minority the size of which belies its central importance in the grand empire of words. The burgeoning specialist group is, however, heavily dependent on the core words for the construction of the meanings of its members. In terms of my three-part model of lexical meaning, the linguistic descriptions that the meanings of these words require to achieve an adequate meaning content are ultimately dependent on the core words for their construction. The core is thus a hard-working cadre that rules this vast imperial lexical enterprise. The growth of vocabulary is ultimately dependent on the meanings of core words.

9. Similarity as the basis of representation and reference in words.

One of the most fundamental, controversial and unresolved aspects of word and concept meaning is the basis of the relationship between the cognized meaning of words and their referents, of brain states that instantiate meaning and entities in the world. How does word meaning operate in terms of establishing its necessary relations with the physical world? How do words represent and refer? This has been the subject of debate involving some of the foremost philosophers of the past century. I discuss these two issues with trepidation because they have been highly resistant to resolution, but the matters discussed in this paper offer, in my view, a promising approach to a new understanding of representation and reference. I believe these issues, which have traditionally been treated quite separately, are closely linked and that a common solution may be possible. I will focus primarily on the approach that my research suggests rather than engaging closely with the literature. I will provide a fuller account in another paper.

            The findings and proposals that I have outlined here point firmly to a specific neural basis of word and concept meaning that is diametrically opposed to that of many contemporary accounts that favour a digital non-modal medium for the instantiation of language in the brain (discussed in Barsalou, 1999). I believe the zoemes are strong evidence that similarity is a key to the relationship between the mental representation of meaning of words and their referents. Meanings are not picture-like, but I believe there is a significant degree of isomorphism, perceptually based as Barsalou proposes, between the meanings of words and referents, although it is variable across different kinds of word meaning as discussed in the previous section. I propose further that this has a major bearing on both representation and reference that I view as two sides of a coin. Representation is the power to form meaningful neural configurations that refer to external entities. These are inseparable aspects of such a neural configuration. Discussion about representation is generally held within a nonlinguistic context while that on reference is normally about how words and sentences advert to the world. I am dealing with both by addressing how the brain represents the world and how it adverts to the world in thought (which I hold to be at base non-linguistic––another large issue). In essence neural representations refer by similarity. A neural similitude, a representation, that is a consequence of previous perceptions, enters the focus of mental attention in a manner that singles out an absent entity. But how can meaning in the form of a neural state bear a resemblance to something in the world, a horse or a hint or a hypothesis?

The suggestion that meaning is based on similarity between referent and meaning, something image-like to some degree, has a long history but it is a source of deep antipathy for many contemporary authorities. It has been summarily dismissed by many (for example, Goodman 1968 and 1972, Cummins (1969), Pylyshyn, (1984 and 2007) for several reasons: because there is held to be no apparent means whereby similarity between entities in the world and states of the brain can be generated; because mental similarities are said to require that most undesirable inhabitant of the human brain, the homunculus, who would have the job of viewing the image and adjudicating similarity; because similarity is viewed as a circular, unconstrained and rather vacuous concept; because it is said to fail to produce meanings of abstract terms; and because other theories are believed to provide superior explanations.  There is, however, a substantial group of researchers such as Kosslyn (1980, 1994), Lakoff and Johnson (1999) Baraslou (1999, 2007), Prinz (2002) and Goldstone (1994), Edelman (1998) that has concluded that similarity prevails in some form.

A further reason for the rejection of similarity as a basis for representation is its incompatibility with the belief of many authorities that computation, as conducted by digital computers, is the best model of thought in the form of the Computational Theory of Mind. The mind is assumed to operate like a computer in the formal manipulation of digitized abstract symbols. Meaning is often held to be ‘multiply realizable’ across different mediums, minds and computers in particular. There is no place for similarity in such a scheme that has been a potent factor for many participants in this discussion. Robert Cummins (1969) stated the case: ‘Computationalists must dismiss similarity theories of representation out of hand; nothing is more obvious than that data structures don’t resemble what they represent.’ He went on to explain, ‘The most obvious difficulty with the similarity theory is that it seems incompatible with physicalism. If mental representations are physical things, and if representation is grounded in similarity, then there must be physical things in the brain that are similar to (i.e., that share properties with) the things they represent’. It is inconceivable to computationalists that brains can work in this way. Given our understanding of the neural instantiation of meaning, limited as it is, how can states of the brain possibly have the same or similar properties as things in the world? The similarity thesis appears to have an air of the ridiculous.

I propose that a means of reconciling similarity with the physical nature of the brain is ready at hand. I believe the appearance of incommensurability diminishes when the Zoeme is acknowledged––and disappears when gestalts are recognized. The Zoeme is a biological phenomenon. It is a set of empirically evidenced experiential factors that, as the nuclear structure of gestalts, assists in the interaction of person and environment and, in its embodied form, operates in the somatically-connected regions of the human brain. I have argued that the Zoeme is both primal and omnipresent in the evolution of organisms. For human beings it is a bridge between perception and concept and word meaning. The zoemes’ provision of essential structure for percepts is the precursor to its role in categorization, concepts and word meaning. The individual zoemes, operating in sensori-motor and affective regions of the brain, account for the structure of word meaning in important classes of words as I have tried to demonstrate. The gestalt schema, the second central component of word meaning in my model, is also instantiated in the brain and also operates on the similarity principle in providing a schematic reconstruction of the appearance of external objects and other entities in the brain. Using these physical components, brain states simulate entities, situations and events in the world in the formation of meaning within neural networks. The zoemes and the gestalt schemas are lineaments of world-brain similarity.

The answer to the homuncular worry about world-brain similarity in lexical meaning is the latter’s instantiation in zoemic and gestaltic form in the visual, affective and other body-related regions of the brain. There is no homuncular eye watching the flow of zoeme-structured schemas. In effect the body is the viewer in conceptualization and the understanding of word meaning. But it operates, not like an eye, but like an actor whose body is directly stimulated by zoemic/schematic phenomena and is able to interpret them in terms of its interests and its need to respond. The homunculus bogey is eliminated. The intrinsic somaticity of the Zoeme also provides the answer to Cummins’ concerns about similarity theory and physicalism. It provides a medium for the delineation of similarity across apparently incompatible modes, and the model is thoroughly physicalistic.

Goodman, 1968 and 1972, has attacked similarity in relation to representation stating that “similarity is insidious”. He argues for the primacy of denotation in representation. “Denotation is the core of representation and is independent of resemblance” (1972). In his view a symbol denotes but it does not resemble or need to resemble, what it represents. I submit that the Zoeme with its simulatory presence at the core of the human representational system destroys Goodman’s argument as it relates to mental symbols. The semantic aspect of linguistic and conceptual symbols cannot be thoroughly abstract (amodal) and without resemblance of what is denoted. Turning Goodman on his head I submit that resemblance is the core of denotation, reference and representation in thought and language.

Pylyshyn has also argued, at great length, that there is no place for similarity in semantics. In his latest book (2007) he has continued his intransigent opposition to the role of mental images in semantics. “Resemblance had a long history in the philosophy of mind….But it failed in the end for reasons that are well known––thought can use symbols that do not resemble their referents (e.g. words), and if there is a resemblance, the resemblance itself cannot be what determines the reference or meaning”. This paper proposes a zoemic/gestaltic basis for resemblance that determines representation, meaning and reference. I am unsure whether Pylyshyn would regard this as a depictive model of the kind that is anathema to him. Perhaps my model suggests a middle ground between the two alienated sides of the long imagery debate.

The title of Shimon Edelman’s, paper “Representation is the representation of similarities” encapsulates his proposal for similarity-based perceptual representation supported by computer modeling and neurobiological evidence. This paper deals only with representation in direct perception but I believe it supports the proposals I am presenting in which perceptual representation has a primary position in relation to conceptual and linguistic representation. This debate may ultimately be settled by neural evidence through neurophysiological investigation of brain activity in response to words. For example Pulvermuller (1999) and many other investigators are providing growing evidence of regions of the brain that are active in response to words. I am hopeful that research will be undertaken to follow the clues provided by the model of word meaning used in this paper. This has the potential to demonstrate how the brain can simulate meaning in complex ways through zoeme-nucleated gestalts.

If the concept of the zoeme is valid and if my three-part model of word meaning holds, how has it happened that many brilliant minds have been so mistaken? In brief, I surmise that one of the ultimate causes has been the belief that symbol manipulation by the digital computer is a model of the computational processes of the brain (computationalism). Although the electrical and chemical neural systems of the brain may seem to operate in as abstract a modality as that of a digital computer, the processors of neural data are unique, I believe, in their ability to transform the data back into a form that is isomorphic with its worldly source. At the same time, the data has been interpreted by the system (the beta zoemes) in terms of the organism’s self-interest. The human brain instantiates the dimensions of the space of biological interaction as a loom, as it were, to weave the veridical cloth of experience.

I believe evolutionary history supports this view. Perhaps we need to go back to the beginning to understand this situation. In simple organisms at the early stages of evolution similarity at the structural level of the Zoeme is arguably fundamental to the mechanism of sensation and response (S & R). The function of the Zoeme here is to replicate for the organism external conditions in a manner that activates an adaptive response. The alpha and beta components of the Zoeme combine to effect this replication in the activation of the organism’s genetically-determined response that was established by generations of adaptive experiences that were shaped by the zoemic parameters and principles. The Zoeme thus bridges the organism’s membrane by instantiating biological meaning, knowing how to respond to prevalent events and conditions. Similarity is the fundamental principle––the alpha parameters simulate physical parameters without, while the beta principles adjudicate response across the membrane. This is a paradigm of a key aspect of the processes of life, the determination of organisms’ responses to encountered conditions and entities, using biological meaning, so as to survive and flourish. The Zoeme serves the function of replicating internally external conditions as viewed through the lens of the beta zoemes. In primitive organisms such as I have been describing the Zoeme operates as dimensions of interaction for genetically determined activators. For us the Zoeme is working in the brain and the body in the (partly) conscious processes of understanding what we encounter so that we can respond to it.

In both of these cases, micro-organism and human being, the Zoeme might be considered to be redundant because external signals could be regarded as sufficient on their own for motivating action. This is wrong on two counts. The zoemes precede and are necessary conditions for the signal and they have a specific function in setting the parameters for activation in specific instances.

We are biological through and through and we cannot escape from the zoemes any more than we can from the physico-temporal dimensions of the world. They are the structure of our every moment of interaction, of every act, of opportunity, of thought and puzzlement, wonder and creativity. With associated gestalts they have great versatility in generating word meaning but they are not able to meet all our requirements. They also need the third linguistic zone of the model in generating complex concepts, but these are hierarchically dependent on simplex concepts that do not depend on language for their meaning.

10. Summary and conclusion.

This paper has:

     • demonstrated the presence of a pervasive sound-meaning iconicity in English words;

     • demonstrated that that the semantic components of this relationship collectively
........form a distinctive set of semantic primitives;

     • attempted to demonstrate that the primitives operate compositionally in the
........formation of word and concept meaning;

     • postulated that these primitives are essentially primitives of perception, 
........cognition and experience;     

     • hypothesized that, as such, they operate at the lexical level in all languages,
........natural and mental;

     • hypothesized that the primitives are fundamentally biological in that they operate
........across all organisms in their interaction with the immediate environment; and

     • hypothesized that the same principle, the principle of similarity between
........external referents and neural or somatic responsive formations, underlies
........biological interaction from primitive organisms through to human brains
........and that it also governs the formation of word and concept meaning.

The credibility of these conclusions depends critically on the validity of the sematic data and my interpretation of the sematic meanings as categories of human experience and dimensions of the space of biological interaction. The sematic material is new and both the data and the hypotheses I have based on it are untested. Consequently there is an urgent need for review of both the data and my hypotheses before proceeding to explore the implications that may be drawn from it, implications that would seem to be extensive and possibly radical in their effects on a range of issues in linguistics, cognitive science and psychology.

References.

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Barsalou, L. W. 2007. Cognitive and Neural contributions to Understanding the Conceptual System. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Barsalou, L. W. 2007. Grounded Cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 59, 2008.

Edelman, S. (1998). Representation is representation of Similarity. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 21 (449–498).

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Goldstone, R. L. 1994. The Role of Similarity in Categorization. Cognition 52, pp.125–157.

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Kosslyn, S. M. 1980. Image and Mind . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Lakoff, G. and Johnson M. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodiment of Mind In western Philosophy.  Basic Books.

Lloyd, T. 2003. Fossils of Language: Primal Meanings in the Sounds of Words. Steele Roberts, Wellington, New Zealand.

Lloyd, T. The Sound of Meaning. (Unpublished paper).

Lloyd, T. A New Biological Grounding for Cognition and Language. (Unpublished paper).

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Plato. Cratylus and Other Dialogues. Trans. H. N. Fowler 1926.

Ohala, J. 1994. The biological basis of sound symbolism. In Hinton, Nichols and Ohala.

Prinz, J. 2002. Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis. MIT Press.

Pylyshyn, Z. 1984. Computation and Cognition. Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science. MIT Press.

Pylyshyn, Z. 2007. Things and Places. How the Mind Connects with the World. MIT Press.

Rosch, E. and Lloyd B.B. (eds.) 1978. Cognition and Categorisation. Erlbaum.

Saussure, F. de 1995. Course in General Linguistics. Bally, C and Sechahaye, A, (Eds.) New York Philosophical Library.

Sloman, S. A. and Rips, L. J. (eds.) 1998. Similarity and Symbols in Human Thinking. MIT Press.

 

Annex 1: The full zoeme descriptors.

The alpha zoemes.

m         Materiality  •  1. Materiality; 2. associated with the material; 3. extendedness, 
............horizontality; 4. continuity; 5. magnitude, multiplicity; 6. measurement; 7.
............manipulation of materials; (8. immateriality, the mental).

p          Particularity  •  1. Particularity, specificity, compactness; 2. exclusivity; and the
............following character of things: 3. seriality; 4. slim and vertical; 5. long, thin
............and pointed; 6. flat and bounded; 7. small and compact.

f           Surface  •  1. Surface; 2. flatness; 3. the manipulation of surfaces; 4. intimacy;
............(5. insubstantiality, unreliability; 6. involving excessive detail).

b         Bodily roundness, natural  being  •  1. The fullness of the human body; 2. of a
............rounded character; 3. natural being; 4. parameters of natural and human being;
............(5. violence, destruction).

n          Contraction •  1. Contraction, compression, constraint, focus, reduction,
............subtraction, exclusivity; 2. negation; (3. extension, dispersion).

y, j       Extension  •  1. Extension, stretching; 2. continuous, ongoing; 3. personal
............and objective energy;  4. humour.

l           Display  •  1. Display, manifestness, conspicuous visibility; 2. illumination;
............(3. concealment, obscurity.)

o          Openness   •  1. Spatial openness; 2. personal openness; 3. possibility, opportunity,
............(4. concealment, absence).

a           Action, largeness   •   1. Action; 2. largeness; enlargement; 3. locational parameters.

i           Smallness, interiority      1. Smallness; 2. interiority; 3. essence; 4. having an
............mental or abstract quality.

r           Intensity of energy   •   1.  Intensity of energy; 2. activity, movement;
............3. salience, (4. inactivity, rest).

k          Physical intensity  •   1. Intensity in action or physical quality; 2. the prominence
............of parts of things, angularity; 3. the complexity, refinement and intricacy of things.

............The beta zoemes.

s          Body / mind   •   1. Somatic affects; 2. the body, bodily actions; 3. sensations;
............4. bodily excretions and secretions.

t           Tactility   •   1. Touch, tactility, contact; 2. sensation; 3. pointing, deicity. 4. uprightness.

d          Positiveness / negativeness   •   1. Affectively bright, happy, good, favourable
............aspects of the world; 2. dark, sad, bad, unfavourable aspects.

v, z       Fullness / emptiness   •  1. Fullness of explicit value (as expressed by previous
............zoemes); 2. fullness of intrinsic value such as  positiveness, salience, forcefulness,
............presence, mindfulness, high visibility; 3. physical fullness; (4. lack of explicit value;
............5. emptiness, insubstantiality, lack, absence, negativeness; 6. capacity to contain).

g          Abundance, generosity • 1. Abundance, availability, productivity, effectiveness;
............2. generosity, prodigality, givenness; (3. deprivation; 4. seeking, grasping).

h          Possession,    self-interest    •    1. Possession, acquisition, satisfaction; 2. want,
............desire; 3. self-interest; 4. subjectivity, personhood; (5. dispossession, detriment).

q           Uncertainty   •  1. Uncertainty; indeterminacy; (2. definitiveness, authority).

u          Displacement • 1. Displacement, alienation, strangeness, dissonance, discomfort;
............2. negation; 3. disparagement, (4. comfort, satisfaction, consonance, order and utility).

w         Existential    value  •  1. The existential  significance and value of everyday core experience.

c, e       Lifeworld   •   1. The communal and 2. physical lifeworlds.

Annex 2: The zoemes with examples.

            This annex provides some further information on the semes and zoemes that will, I hope, increase reader’s comfort with them. I will work through the semes in the order of Annex 1 that gives them more coherence than the alphabetical order. The examples of sematic words include (in bold) all the core words (as defined in Section 2) as I have identified them plus an admixture of other common words for illustrative purposes. The examples of non-sematic words are confined to core words. Polar meanings, where they are identifiable, are marked with an asterisk. As I have noted the decision as to whether a word is sematic is subjective. Sematicity is often quite obscure and sometimes decisions are marginal. I do not expect readers to agree with all my examples but the sematicity of the great majority should be fairly obvious. For each seme I will provide, for convenience, the fuller description of the sematic meaning from Annex 1 (with polar meanings in brackets) before postulating, where possible, the articulatory motivation of each seme and setting out the examples. I also make some comments of a general nature on the individual zoemes.


m       Materiality  • 1. Materiality; 2. associated with the material; 3. extendedness,
..........horizontality; 4. continuity; 5. magnitude, multiplicity; 6. measurement; 7. manipulation
..........of materials; (8. immateriality, the mental).    

Articulation.
/m/ is a continuant, labial, voiced consonant and each of these features is relevant to its sematicity. Phonological continuance relates to the normal extendedness of materials as opposed to specific objects. Labiality (frontality) is relevant because, as we will see, most labial consonants (m, f and p and also b to a degree), tend to refer to the objective, external world as opposed to the subjective, affective and community-related entities that tend to align with sounds produced at the back of the mouth; and voice, for its consistency with the solidity of the material. It is also a nasal consonant but this feature has no obvious relevance.

Examples of sematic words.
machine, macro-, magic*, magnet, magnify, magnificent, main, major, make, male, mammal, man, manage, manipulate, manufacture, manure, many, marble, mark, mass, material, mathematics*, matter, meal, mean (v)*, measure, meat, medium (n.), melt, memory*, merit*, mess, metal, metre, micro-, middle, milk, million, mind (n.)*, mineral, minor, mire, model, molecule, moment*, money, monument, mood*, more, mortal, most, mould (v,), mountain, mouth, move, much, muck, mud, multiple, murder, muscle, music*, my, mystery*.

The few non-sematic basic-level words include: mad, may, manner, marry, meet, miss, mistake, morning, mourn, must.

            The sematic meanings emerge quite clearly from the m section of the English dictionary. They all derive from materiality and the associative connections are not difficult to see. This sematic meaning is important as it often has a taxonomic role that I used in the zoemic formulas. It shares this role with a, c and e. As well as being an indicator of the vast material realm it identifies, through its polarity, the huge scope of the non-material and particularly the mental.


p        Particularity  •  1. Particularity, specificity, compactness; 2. exclusivity; and the
..........following character of things: 3. seriality; 4. slim and vertical; 5. long, thin and
..........pointed; 6. flat and bounded; 7. small and compact.

Articulation.
This is described as a plosive, bi-labial, unvoiced stop. Again all three articulatory features contribute to the motivation of the meaning, the first is particularly iconic, the second is relevant as described under m, and the third has a possible effect in reinforcing the idea of smallness or limitedness that sometimes prevails.

Examples.
pace (n.), pack, page, pain, panel, pang, pant, paradigm, paragon, parcel, parent, part, particular, pass, passage, patch, path, pattern, pause, pay, pea, peak, pebble, peck, peculiar, peg, pen, penetrate, penis, perceive, perch, peremptory, perfect, perform, perhaps, period, permit, persecute, person, perspective, persuade, pester, phase, pick, picture, piece, pierce, pile, pill, pillar, pin, pinch, pip, pipe, piss, pit, place, plan, plank, plant (v.), plate, plot, pocket, pod, poem, point, pole, pool, port, pose, position, possess, possible, postulate, post, pot, pour, power, practice, prank, pray, precious, preclude, prefer, premium, prepare, present, preserve, press, prevail, previous, price, prim, principle, print, private, prize, probe, produce, progress, profit, project, prominent, promise, proper, property, propose, protect, proto-, proud, prove, provide, pry, public*, pull, pulse, pump, punch, punctual, punish, pupil, pure, purpose, push, put, putt, pylon, pyramid. There is a mere handful of non-sematic basic-level words such as peace, pale, pig, pity, please, poison, pretend, pretty.            

            This is one of the clearest exemplars of sematicity. It also provides a good illustration of the way a sematic meaning can be extended metaphorically in severaldirections. The base meaning refers to the particulate nature of physical things like peas and pods but it is equally effective as part of the meaning of verbs such as pay, peck and put and more obliquely in perceive and persuade (with their focused natures) and possess and prefer. It also operates with general terms such as principle, private and possible. The meaning has an important taxonomic role in helping to narrow down the field of meaning before the more specific descriptive factors are introduced. The seme appears to lack polarity but in effect it appears to be the pole of m.


f        Surface • 1. Surface; 2. flatness; 3. the manipulation of surfaces; 4. intimacy;
.........(5. insubstantiality, unreliability; 6. involving excessive detail).

Articulation.
The features of this sound are continuance, voicelessness and labio-dentality. The articulation is particularly apt because the light contact of the upper front teeth on the surface of the lower lip and the gentle expression of breath between them is distinctly iconic.

Examples.
fabric, face, facile, fact, fad*, fail, fall, false*, familiar, family, fancy*, far, farce*, farm, fashion*, fasten, fat, father, fault*, favour, feature, feel, feign*, fellow, female, fever, fiction*, field, fierce, fight, figure, fill, find, finger, fire, firm, fit (v.), fix, flag, flame, flash, flat, flatter, flaunt, flavour, flesh, flim-flam*, float, flood, floor, flow, flower, fluff*, fly, fold, follow, folk, food, for, force, form, fragile*, frame, fraud*, free, freeze, fresh, friend, frill*, from, front, frost, froth, fruit, fry, fuck, full, fun, function, fundamental, fur, fury, fuse (v.), fuzzy. And non-sematic: fast (a.), fate, few, final, first, fish, forest, forgive, fork, future.

            The intimacy feature (family, father, favour, fellow, female, fuck, fun) may appear anomalous. It seems to derive from the closeness of bodily surfaces in human situations.


b        Bodily roundness, natural  being   •   1. The fullness of the human body; 2. of a rounded
..........character; 3. natural being; 4. parameters of natural and human being; (5. violence, destruction).

Articulation.
This sound is the voiced equivalent of bilabial /p/ but in terms of meaning is more closely related to /f/. The addition of voice seems to contribute substance to the meaning. The main motivating factor may be the very slight puffing of the cheeks, absent in /p/, as the sound is produced. This can be seen as iconic.

Examples.
baby, back, bag, bake, bald, ball, balloon, bare, barrel, base (n.), bash*, bathe, battle*, be, bead, bean, beast, beautiful, because, become, bee, bed, before, begin, behave, behind, believe, bell, belly, belong, below, bend, beneath, beside, best, better, between, big, bio-, bird, birth, blaze, blood, bloom, blow (v.), boast, boat, body, boil, bone, book, boot, bosom, bottle, bottom, bow, bowel, bowl, boy, brain, branch, brave, bread, break*, breast, breathe, breed, broad, brother, brow, bruise (n.)*, bubble, bud, bug, build, bulb, bum, bump, bun, bunch, bundle, burly, burst, bury, bush, bust (n.), butter, buttock, button, buxom, by. Non-sematic words: bad, balance, beak, bear (v.), bind, black, blade, blame, blind, blue, borrow, both, bridge, bring, brown, burn, busy, but, buy.

            The third and fourth meanings are somewhat obliquely connected but still probably tenable features of the seme. The extension of the sematic meaning from bodily roundness to the very broad concept of natural being in the sense of living as opposed to inert things is made credible by the fact that bodily roundness is a hallmark of human and animal forms. There is however a much more tenuous, although arguable, connection with the fourth meaning which is evident in the become, begin, behave, believe, belong cluster and the because, before, behind, below cluster. There is a strong connection between this seme and those of f and p. The polarity I have identified may be more onomatapoeic than sematic. A polar relationship can be postulated between f and b on the basis of two distinctive types of surface.


 n        Contraction • 1. Contraction, compression, constraint, focus, reduction,
...........subtraction, exclusivity; 2. negation; (3. extension, dispersion).

Articulation.
/N/ is a voiced, alveolar, nasal consonant. The distinctive pressure of the tip of the tongue on the alveolar ridge behind the upper front teeth together with nasality are clear sources of iconicity.

Examples.
nail, naive, naked, name, narrate, narrow, native, naught, nature, navel, navigate, near, nebula, necessary, neck, need, needle, neglect, neighbour, negotiate, nerve, ness-, nest, never, new, next, nexus, nibble, nice, nick, niggle, night, nil, nipple, nitpick, no, nod, node, nominal, nook, noon, north, nose, not, notch, note, nothing, notion, noun, now, nuance, nub, nucleus, nugget, numb, number, nurture, nut, nuzzle. Non-sematic: nephew, net, niece, noise.

            The seme is relatively straightforward. Metaphorical extension of the zoeme is again evident in words like name, narrate, native, navigate, new. Neither this not the next seme exhibit polarity because one is, in fact the pole of the other.


 y, j        Extension • 1. Extension, stretching; 2. continuous, ongoing; 3. personal
..............and objective energy;  4. humour

Articulation.
These sounds are produced by very similar articulatory actions and have the same energetic character and are distinguished mainly by the voicing of /j/.

Examples.
yard (length and area), yarn (in both senses), yawn, year, yearn, yeast, yell, yelp, yes, yesterday, yet, yield, yoke, yonder, yore, you, young, yo-yo. Non-sematic: yellow, yolk.

jab, jangle, jaunt, jazz, jealous, jeer, jerk, jest, jet, jibe, jiggle, jingle, jitter, jive, job, jockey, jocund, join, joke, jolly, jostle, journey, joy, jubilant, judder, judge, juggle, juice, jumble, jump, just (a., adv.), jut, juxtapose.  Non-sematic: jaw (n.), jug.

            The meanings that emerge from these two sections are distinctive but have enough in common to be regarded as one, albeit in a polar relationship with n. It is surprising, and perhaps an anomaly of English that something as specific as humour is represented in the zoemes.


l        Display • 1. Display, manifestness, conspicuous visibility; 2. illumination;
.........(3. concealment, obscurity).

Articulation.
The main phonological features of /l/ are its alveolar position, its voice and its laterality (which refers to the spreading of the lips relative to other consonants). In articulatory terms it is distinguished by its characteristic release of the following vowel, its ejection into the world by the release of the tongue from the alveolar ridge, putting the meaning of the word on display, as it were.

Examples.
lack*, laconic*, lady, lament, lamp, land, language, large, laugh, laud, launch, law, lazy*, lead (v.), leaf, leap, learn, leave, lecherous, leer, lend, less*, let, letter, libation, library, lick, lie (v. position), lie (v., n. falsehood)*, life, lift, light (n., a.), like (v., adv.), limbo*, line, lip, list, listen, litany, literal, little, live (v., a.), livery, load, lock*, locution, look, loose, lord, lose*, lot, loud, lout, love, low, lucid, luck, luminous, lure, lust, lyric. Non-sematic: lamb, lame, lean (v.), left (a.), leg, lemon, lion, liver, lung.

This is a paradigm of sematicity.


 o       Openness  •  1. Spatial openness; 2. personal openness; 3. possibility,
..........opportunity; (4. concealment, absence).        

Articulation.
This is described as a mid-back, rounded or labial vowel. The motivating feature seems to be the size and orb-like shape of the oral cavity.

Examples.
oath, obey, obfuscate*, object (n., v.), oblige, obliterate*, observe, obstruct*, obtain, obvious, occasion, occult*, occupy, occur, odour, of, off, offer, often, oh, omit*, on, once, one, only, opaque*, open, opinion, opportunity, oppress*, option, or, oral, order, ordinary, organ, organise, orgasm, origin, ornament, other, ostensible, ought, our, out, over, overlook, owe, own. Non-sematic: odd, oil, old.

            Oath, obey, oblige, ought, owe, own are interesting extensions of the core meaning. This seme has much in common with l and often has a natural pairing with it in the meaning of words.


 a       Action, largeness  • 1. Action; 2. largeness, enlargement; 3. locational parameters.

Articulation.
This is a back vowel formed with an open mouth, tongue and lips relaxed. The openness and size of the oral cavity underlies the largeness meaning while action may be a natural extension through the notion of actions normally causing some form of enlargement or enhancement.

Examples.
a, able, -able, about, above, absolute, abundant, accept, accumulate, achieve, acquire, across, act (v., n.), actual, adapt, add, admire, adopt, adore, adorn, advance, advantage, adventure, advise, affair, affect (n., v.), afford, after, again, agent, aggregate,  agree, aid, aim, alive, all, allow, almost, along, already, also, although, always, amalgamate, amass, ambition, among, amount, and, announce, another, answer, anticipate, any, appeal, apply, appreciate, approach, approve, area, argue, arise, around, arrange, arrive, art, as, ascend, assemble, assert, assist, associate, astonish, at, attach, attack, attain, attempt, attract, augment, avail, avoid, awake, away, awe. Non-sematic: absent, age, air, alone, angle, animal, annoy, appear, apple, arm, ask, awful.

            This is a rather difficult seme. The sematicity is confused, hard to determine and rather tenuous in one important group of words (the locational parameters), although arguable. There is quite a strong connection between the first two elements but the third is something of an anomaly, although consistent with the second.


 i        Smallness, interiority     1. Smallness; 2. interiority; 3. essence;
..........4. having a mental or abstract quality.

Articulation.
The articulation of /i/ sounds contrasts with that of /a/. It has a frontal character and is formed with a raised tongue that restricts the size of the oral cavity. The sematic iconicity lies here.

Examples.
I, icon, idea, identity, idiot, idle, if, ill, image, imitate, immediate, important*, impression, in, inborn, incident, include, increase*, indicate, individual, infer, inferior, infinite*, influence, information, inhabit, injure, inquire, innate, innocent, insect, insight, insist, inspect, inspire, instant, instead, instill, instinct, intellect, intelligent, intend, intense, interest, intermediate, internal, interpret, interval, intervene, intimate (adj.), intuition, intricate, intrinsic, introduce, introverted, invent, investigate, invite, invoke, involve, irony, is, island, isolate, issue*, it, itch, item. Non-sematic: ice, indeed, infant, ignore, insult, iron.

            In and the prefix in- have a big influence. The double nature of this seme parallels that of a. The smallness meaning occurs more frequently in non-initial positions as in bit, fit, mite, nit, sit, tit.


 r        Intensity of energy  •  1.  Intensity of energy; 2. activity, movement; 3. salience, (4. inactivity).

Articulation.
/R/ is described as a voiced post-alveolar consonant. The relevant iconic features of its articulation are the tense lateral curvature of the tongue and the presence of voice.

Examples.
rabid, race (v.), ragged, rage, raid, rain*, raise, rally, ramble*, rampant, rancour, ransack, rant, rape, rapid, rare*, rat, ravage, rave, raw, re-, reach, real, reap, rear (v.), reason, rebel, reckless, recline*, rectify, recur, refer, reflect*, refuse, regress, reinforce, reject, rejoice, relate, relax*, relieve, rely*, remain*, remember, remote*, remove, renown, repeat, repel, repent, reply, report, repose*, represent, require, rescue, research, resemble, resent, reside*, rest*, resurrect, retire*, retreat*, return, reveal, revel, revenge, revere, rich, rid, ride, ridicule, right, rigid, rise, risk, riot, rip, roam*, roar, rob, rocket, root, rot, rough, round, rouse, rout, row (v., n.), rub, ruck, rude, ruin, rumbustious, rumour*, run, rush

Nonsematic: rather, rear (back), red, responsible, river, road, roof, room, rope, rose, royal, rust.

This section is notable for the easily observable scale of its sematicity from pole to pole.


 k       Physical intensity  •  1. Intensity in action or physical quality; 2. the prominence
..........of parts of things, angularity; 3. the complexity, refinement and intricacy of things.

Articulation.
There is a fine distinction to be made between the articulation of this sound and that of /k/ of the c section. The letter k in English is followed only by /e/, /i/ and /n/ and, as a consequence, has a different articulation from c, the sound of which is influenced by its following vowels and consonants. This /k/ is an unvoiced palatal plosive while the c sound is formed further back in the velar region. The result of this fairly small distinction, surprisingly, is a large difference in terms of sematic meaning. Along with other more frontal consonants (labial and alveolar) the palatal /k/’s sematic meaning refers predominantly to the physical external world while the velar /k/, together with /g/ and /h/ with their relative backness, refer predominantly to the communal and personal worlds.           

Examples.
keen, keep, key, kick, kill, kind (a., n.), king, kiss, knead, knee, knife, knit, knock, knot, know, knuckle. Non-sematic: kettle, kidney, kitchen.

            A small but effective seme. K and n have mutually reinforcing meanings.


BETA ZOEMES.


s       Body /mind  •  1. Somatic affects; 2. the body and bodily actions; 3. sensations;
.........4. bodily excretions and secretions.

Articulation.
/S/ is an alveolar fricative formed by a rather a near contact between tongue tip and the ridge separated by the escaping breath. The motivational force of this articulation on meaning is hard to determine.

Examples.
As this is the largest section of the English dictionary the examples are confined to basic-level words.
sacred, sad, safe, sake, salt, same, save, say, scar, scare, scarce, scream, secret, see, seem, self, semen, send, sense, separate, serious, set, sex, shape, shame, share, sharp, she, shift, shit, shock, shout, show, shy, sick, sign, silence, simple, sin, sing, sit, size, skill, sleep, small,  smell, smile, so, soft, son, song, soon, sore, sorrow, soul, sound, space, speak, spend, sperm, spit, spoil, spread, stain, stand, start, starve, stay, steal, steep, stench, step, stiff, still, straight, stop, store, strange, stretch, strong, struggle, stupid, such, suck, suffer, suggest, sure, surface, sweat, sweet, swim. Non-sematic: sail, sand, scatter, scene, school, sea, season, seed, sell, seven, sheep, sheet, shell, ship, shoe, shop, shore, short, shut, side, since, sister, six, sky, slip, slow, smoke, snow, soil, spare, speed, spill, spot, spray, spring, square, stand, star, state, stone, storm, stream, street, spring, substance, summer, sun, sweep.  

 

            This is quite a disparate seme that involves a range of things associated with the body or having an affective aspect. The first meaning, which manifests in many different ways as in sad, safe, scare, scarce, secret, seem, occurs widely without sematicity in word meanings. The number of non-sematic words is unusually high. This seme and the next are closely associated. There is no detectible polarity in either seme unless there is a polar relationship between the two based on exteriority and interiority.


t        Tactility   •  1. Touch, tactility, contact; 2. sensation; 3. pointing, deicity; 4. uprightness.

Articulation.
This is a voiceless alveolar plosive that is formed in the same region of the mouth as s by a brief, light touch of the tip of the tongue on the alveolar ridge before a sharp emission of breath. The brevity and lightness of that contact becomes intensely meaningful in motivating the meaning.

Examples.
table, tackle, tactics, tail, take, talk, tall, tamper, tangent, tangle, target, task, taste, tattoo, taunt, taut, teach, tear (v.), tease, tell, tempt, tenable, tenacious, tend, tension, test, text, than, that, the, theft, their, then, thence, there, these, thick, thin, thing, think, thirst, this, thistle, thorn, thrash, threaten, throb, through, throw, thus, thwart, tickle, tight, tingle, tiny, tip, tired, titivate, title, to, toe, together, toil, tone, tongue, tool, too, tooth, top, toss, touch, tough, toy, trace, track, trail, trait, trample, tread, tree, tremble, trickle, trigger, trouble, true, trust, turn, tweak, twine, twinge, twist, twitch. Non-sematic: tame, tear (n.), ten, thank, thousand, three, throat, tide, time, today, town, tribe, twenty, two.

The kinship with s is the strong but distinctive sensory elements in both sections. Their association in the st words with the meaning of verticality and stability has the appearance of being more than a case of phonesthesia as the meaning has the primality of a zoeme. As such it would complement the extendedness and horizontality of m and fill one of the apparent gaps in the zoemic scheme. The th words share the same meaning.


d       Positiveness / negativeness   •  1. Affectively bright, happy, good, favourable aspects of
.........the world; 2. dark, sad, bad, unfavourable aspects.

Articulation.
This is the voiced counterpart of /t/ but there is no sematic similarity. There is no obvious connection here between articulation and sematic meaning.

Examples.
dance, danger*, dare, dark*, darling, daughter, dawn, day, dazzle, de-*, dead*, deaf*, debilitate*, debt*, decay*, decent, decide, declare, decline*, decrease*, dedicate, deed, deem, deep, defeat*, definite, deform*, defunct*, deity, dejected*, delete*, delight, deliver, demise*, deny*, depress*, deprive*, descend*deserve, desire, despair*, destiny, deteriorate*, develop, devote, dew, diamond, die*, different, difficult*, dignity, diminish*, dinner, dire*, dirt, disappear*, disappoint*, disaster*, discover, disgrace*, disgust*, display, distress*, divine, do, doom*, doubt,* down*, dread*, dream, dress, drink, drop (v.)*, dull*, dumb*, dwell, dynamic. Non-sematic: date, deal, dig, direct, dish, distance, dog, door, drag, draw, drift, drip, drive, dry, due, dust, duty.

 This seme is less clear-cut than might be expected for such a crucial manifestation of the beta zoeme.


v, z       Fullness / emptiness  •  1. Fullness of explicit value (as expressed by previous
.............zoemes); 2.  fullness of intrinsic value such as positiveness, salience, forcefulness,
.............presence, mindfulness, high visibility; 3. physical fullness; (4. lack of explicit value;
.............5. emptiness, insubstantiality, lack, absence, negativeness; 6. capacity to contain).                

Articulation.
These two sounds are the voiced counterparts of /f/ and /s/ respectively but have little in common with them in terms of sematic meaning. Both have a marked vibrancy that may be the source of the motivation of the meanings.

Examples (v).
vacant*, vacuum*, vague*, vain*, valid, valley*, vanish*, vanquish, vantage, vapour*, vary*, vast, vaunt, vehement, veil*, vein*, velocity, veneer*, venerate, vengeance, venture, veracity, verb, verify, vertical, very, vessel*, vestige*, vibrant, vicarious*, vicissitude*, victim*, victory, view, vigour, vindicate, violence, virgin, virtue, vision, visit, vista, vital, vivacious, vivid, vocal, voice, void*, volume, vomit*, voracious, voyage, vow, vowel, vulgar*, vulnerable*, vulva*. Non-sematic: vine, vote.

Examples (z).
zany*, zap, zeal, zen*, zenith, zephyr*, zero*, zest, zig-zag, zing, zip, zombie*, zone*, zonked*, zoo, zoom. Non-sematic: None.

            This strongly polar zoeme occurs very widely in the zoemic analysis of word meaning. In particular, it has an important function in indicating degrees of salience of specific qualities.


 g        Abundance, generosity  •  1. Abundance, availability, productivity, effectiveness;
...........2.  generosity, prodigality, givenness; (3. deprivation; 4. seeking, grasping).

Articulation.
This is a voiced velar stop. Its position of formation is further back in the mouth than any consonant apart from /h/. This sound, together with /h/ and velar /c/ form a small group that is characterised semantically by their predominant reference to the communal and personal as opposed to the external and impersonal which is often associated with frontal consonants.

Examples.
gain, game, garden, garland, garment, garner, gasp*, gather, gay, gear, genealogy, general, generous, generate, genuine, geography, get, giant, gift, girl, give, glad, glamour, gleam, glee, globe, gloom*, glory, glutton, gnosis, go, goal, god, gold, good, gorgeous, gormandise*, govern, grab*, grace, grail, grand, grandeur, grant, grasp*, grass, gratify, gravity, great, greed*, greet, gregarious, grief*, grip*, gross, ground, group, guess, guest, guide, gulf, gush, gust, gusto, gut, guzzle*. Non-sematic: gas, glide, grey, grind, groan, gun.

            This and the following sematic meaning, and indeed all the beta meanings, have a powerful biological rationale in that they are associated with biological motivators and triggers of action. Although both these semes have poles of their own there is a deep polarity between the two.


 h       Possession,  self-interest  •  1. Possession, acquisition; 2. want, desire, satisfaction;
..........3. self-interest; 4. subjectivity, personhood; (5. dispossession, detriment).

Articulation.
The sound is described as a voiceless glottal fricative, pure breath, almost. It is formed with a small heave of the chest, the deepest articulatory action of any sound in English. This may be the motivational element.

Examples.
habit, habitat, hall, hand, handle, happen, happy, harem, harm*, harvest, hate*, have, haven, head, heal, health, heap, hear, heart, hearth, hedonist, heaven, heir, hell*, hello, help, here, heredity, hero, hibernate, history, hither, hoard, hobby, hold, holiday, holy, home, -hood, hope, hospitality, host, house, how, huddle, hug, huge, human, humble, humour, hurt*, husband. Non-sematic: hair, half, hammer, hang, hard, hat, high, hill, hit, honey, hook, horse, hour, hundred, hurry.

The non-sematic group is unusually large but does not detract from the robust sematicity.


 q        Uncertainty  • 1. Uncertainty; 2. indeterminacy; (3. definitiveness, authority).

Articulation.
This letter occurs in English only in association with u. The first component of this composite sound is a velar /k/. The motivational factor is difficult to determine.

Examples.
quagmire, quaint, quake, quality*, qualm, quantity*, quark, quarrel, quasi-, queer, quench*, quest, question, quibble, quiet, quintessence*, quirk, quite*, quiz, quorum*, quota*, quote*. Non-sematic: quick.

            This is another important beta zoeme with its function of signaling uncertainty that needs to be resolved. Its pole, which anomalously carries a negative sign, has a significant affirming function.


u       Displacement • 1. Displacement, alienation, strangeness, dissonance, discomfort; 2. negation;
.........3. disparagement, (4. comfort, satisfaction, consonance, order and utility).

Articulation.
The sound is distinguished by its backness that is more extreme than that of any other vowel in English. This may be the source of its motivation.

Examples.
ubiquitous, ugly, ultimate, umbra, un-, unable, uncertain, unconscious, under, understand*, undo, undress, undue, uneasy, unfair, unfit, unhappy, uniform*, union*, unintelligible, unique*, unison*, unit*, universal, unless, unlikely, unreal, unrest, unseen, untenable, unthinkable, untie, unusual, unwell, up, upright, upset, urge, urgent, use*, useful*, useless, usual*, utensil*, utility*, utmost, utopia, utter (v.), utter (a.). Non-sematic: uncle, us.

            Q and u have quite similar meanings and functions. That this is not a consequence of their conjunction in q words is demonstrated by robustness of the u seme. Like q, u has a polar meaning that is distinctly positive although it bears the negative sign because the negative sense of the seme is dominant.


w        Existential value  •  1. The existential significance and value of the everyday.

Articulation.
This is a voiced labial semi-vowel with a unique form of articulation. It is one of the most involved and energetic oral gestures in English. It seems to be an appropriate vehicle for such a rich experiential load. It is significant that the sound is the same as the second component of /q/. This relationship emerges in the interrogative /wh/ words.

Examples.
wage, wait, walk, wall, want, war, warm, wash, waste, watch, water, wave, way, we, weak, wealth, weapon, wear, weary, weather, weave, web, wed, weed, weep, weigh, welcome, welfare, well, wet, what, wheat, wheel, when, where, while, whisper, white, who, whole, whore, why, wicked, wide, widow, wield, wife, wild, will, win, wind, window, wine, wing, winter, wipe, wise, wish, wit, with, woe, woman, womb, wonder, woo, wood, wool, word, work, worm, worry, worse, worship, worth, wound, wrap, wreck, write, wrong. Non-sematic: None.

            This seme is something of an anomaly in that it lacks the specificity of meaning that most of the others carry. It is, nonetheless, extremely robust as is evidenced by the absence of non-sematic basic-level words. This does not occur in any other section. The meaning is almost coterminous with basic-level. I have employed it as a marker of the core.


 c, e       Lifeworlds  • 1. The communal and 2. physical lifeworlds.

Articulation.
The motivational basis of these semes can be ascribed with reasonable confidence. In the case of c it is the backness of the velar position that, as with g and h is indicative of the communal and personal, the domestic and interior aspects of human existence. We have the reverse situation with e. As this is the most frontal of the vowels it is well placed to carry the meaning of external, independent,

Examples.
call, can (v.), care, carry, catch, cause, certain, chair, chance, change, cheap, cheer, child, choose, church, circumstance, clean, clear, clever, climb, close, clothes, coat, come, comic, compare, complain, connect, consider, control, cook, copy, corner, cost, cough, count, country, cover, cow, crack, crash, crawl, create, crooked, crowd, cruel, crush, cry, cup, cure, cut. Non-sematic: case, centre, circle, climate, cloud, cold, colour, combine, contain, continue, corner, course, cross.

each, ear, early, earth, east, easy, eat, edge, effect, egg, either, element, else, empty, end, enemy, enough, enter, equal, even, evening, ever, every, evil, exact, except, exist, explore, external, extreme, eye. Non-sematic: effort, emotion, enable, encourage, enjoy, exchange, excite, expect.

            The two semes are important in the sematic system in that they serve a taxonomic function of indicating which of two very broad realms the sense of a word belongs to. They provide the initial constraint for narrowing down the sense of words. They are, however, problematic because their meanings are so inclusive as to almost subvert the idea of sematicity. In spite of this feature we can attribute sematic meanings with reasonable confidence. The core examples illustrate a fairly clear distinction between the regions of meaning of each seme. The small number of non-sematic core words is testimony to the validity of these semes. The examples are confined to the basic-level words of each of these large sections.

Alphabet of meaning – November 2008.