This is my fourth post in as many as possible in this series. This one is about good design in language.

There’s a term for good aesthetic design in language, Phonaesthetics,

I’ve had mixed responses to telling people about this, so, I thought I’d look into this and explore the concept of good design in language.

The first time I thought about this topic was quite a while ago when I saw the Woody and Tinny words sketch by Monty Python.

A phrase from the linked page, which apparently is considered beautiful purely because of how it sounds, is* ‘cellar door’*

Similarly, there are some words which just sound right or to phrase it differently it sometimes makes sense that the word for a particular thing is that word.

So, I started looking into this and found that this is actually an insanely large branch of study in linguistics and I know I’m no expert at any of this, so, I’m going to limit myself to a basic reflection by giving 2 examples on what I thought was good design in language and the specific branch of study for each.

  • The Bouba/Kiki effect This was my favorite and also the simplest experiment that resonated with me on what good design in language could be about.

The effect essentially says that on shown the below image,


Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouba/kiki_effect
People are more likely to associate the sound ‘kiki’ with the shape with sharp edges and Bouba to the one with rounded edges.

I think this has implications on how to design a brand or a phrase based on what emotion you want to evoke in your listener.

  • Pentasyllabic This is a form of autological word, I think it has an interesting aesthetic quality when a word has a meaning that fits the word itself.

Pentasyllabic is a word that has 5 syllables, which is what the word means.

Reminds me of this passage by Gary Provost.

There’s more to come on this topic, will do a follow up post soon with more.

Thank you for reading

Sainath