Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The present investigation addresses the hypothesis of phonetic symbolism in human speech. As a psycholinguistic and epistemological concept, the phonetic symbol is understood to be a structural a priori in sound which correlates with the semantic properties of physiognomic, muscular tension. An extension of this hypothesis is the assumption that phonemes without conventional meaning in a language can approximate semantic equivalence of ordinary words under appropriate experimental conditions.

This dissertation explores the psychodynamic parameters of phonetic symbol access. Specifically, it makes use of a variety of clinical and experimental tools to tap instinctual processes which could conceivably contribute to phonetic symbol access. It was reasoned that the phonetic symbol should represent a semantic unit from an early stage of linguistic evolution. Consequently, it was thought that persons who are most in touch with the instinctual residues of the distant past (i.e., the unconscious) would also have ready access to semantic a priori.

In order to select subjects with differing propensity for instinctual thought, two widely accepted clinical instruments were employed. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was used to identify persons on the extremes of the attribute of intuition; Jungian psychology holds that high intuition is synonymous with access to unconscious and instinctual processes. The Rorschach Inkblot Test has been adapted by Holt (1970) to differentiate the Freudian constructs of primary and secondary process thought; further, Holt's scoring system attempts to distinguish mature, creative primary process from disorganized primary process. The present study predicted a high correlation between easy access to instinctual contents (intuition, adaptive primary process) and skill in decoding phonetic symbols.

Other experimental manipulations included examinations of the influence of cerebral laterality and interpersonal sensitivity on phonetic symbol skill. It was hypothesized that phonetic symbolism would correlate positively with right cerebral hemisphere processing and high interpersonal sensitivity.

With the exception of the hypothesis concerning interpersonal sensitivity, none of the experimental hypotheses was supported. An unexpected correlation between female gender and phonetic symbol access was found; this was discussed in the context of previous findings demonstrating superior female verbal ability.