Lingua-U Letter No. 2: The Vowel i


vowel2-iThe second vowel in Lingua-U is i, the close front unrounded vowel. In the Subtle Energy Character Set (SECS), it is Yin (╎). Its sound is /i/, a common sound in English which is most commonly spelled “ee” as in “cheese” or “ea” as in “heal,” “e” as in “semen,” “ei” as in “either,” or “i” as in “Hawaii.” In the chart of vowels by the International Phonetic Association (IPA), /i/ appears at the extreme top left, in the close row and frontal column. It appears on the right side of a pair of vowels, which indicates its unrounded quality (a quality we won’t be looking at today).

Openness (Y-axis)

As an close vowel, the tongue is placed in an extreme position: as close to the top of the mouth as possible without forming a consonant. Many linguists prefer the term “high” vowels for “open” vowels, indicating the tongue’s upward position.

Cosmologically, if /a/ is like things that are low, then /i/ is like things that are high. If /a/ is like the water beneath the Earth’s surface, then /i/ is something which reaches towards the heavens and stars above.

Frontness (X-axis)

Like /a/, the /i/ with its frontal property means that the sound of the tongue is as far forward as possible. As we noted previously with /a/, frontal vowels have been observed to have a “bright” quality of sound as opposed to the “dark” back vowels.

We are also positing in this investigation that frontal vowels are “early” as opposed to “late.” For example, the vowel sounds in “early” are both frontal, whereas the first vowel in “over” is back.

The Sound-Meaning of People

There are five words with the /i/ sound appearing in the list of the 100 words occurring with the greatest frequency in English found in The Reading Teachers Book of Lists. These words are: “he” (No. 11), “be” (No. 22), “each” (No. 44), “she” (No. 46), “people,” (No. 80)

Do the features of the vowel’s X-axis and Y-axis in the IPA chart convey some quality to the semantics of words containing the sound, even if only a subtle shading?

Perhaps the most striking thing about the five words is that they are all nouns which cannot be made into verbs, except for “be,” which is the most static or noun-like of verbs. The letter i is an anti-verb. Three of the words refer to people: “he,” and “she,” (the third-person singular personal pronouns), and “people.” Although the terms relate to persons, they are also pronouns or collective nouns, depriving them of a certain intimacy or immediacy. Also, the other two words (“be” and “each”) are frequently used in connection to people, though they may also be used with objects.

The verb “be” conveys the characteristic of existence or presence, but in its infinitive (“to be”) as opposed to conjugated form (as in “I am,” “He is,” etc.) it is uncommonly used. When it is used, it is often conditional (as in “What could he be thinking?”) or future (as in “I will be going.” It is also not uncommonly found in philosophical works exploring the nature of “being or “not being,” as in Paul Tillich’s notion of God as the Ground of Being.

“Each,” (according to define:each on Google) may be an adjective (meaning “Every one of two or more people or things, regarded and identified separately,”) or adverb (meaning “To, for, or by every one of a group.”) From a sound symbolic perspective in which we analyze the sound as a combination of i + ch (the voicless palato-alveolar affricate), let us imagine that the “i” represents that unity out of which the “ch” divides two or more things. (We will look at the evidence for this assertion later when we examine the symbolism for “ch” in this series.)

Now we can formulate a hypothesis about the sound symbolism:

/i/ is a symbol of existence in its undifferentiated and undivided quality, providing the basis from which masculine and feminine and trans-gender properties arise. There is no existence or presence without the “being” of /i/, which gives us men in “he,” women in “she,” and all human beings in “people.” The existence is divided out of a whole to produce “each” individual or particular being. When /i/ is about that which is, it is often about being conditionally or being in the future.

Recalling that /i/ is a close or high frontal vowel and what we said earlier about the X-axis and Y-axis of cosmology, it would appear that existence and its division into particular things is symbolized in English as bright, frontal, and early. Things begin in existence and go on to do. Things begin in unity and go on to divide into particulars. And so on.

The Symbolism of the Vowel i in Lingua-U

The /a/ and /i/ vowels are frequently depicted by linguists as three of four cardinal vowels in various languages (though there is no universal agreement on how cardinal vowels are to be defined). In Lingua-U, i is one of four primary vowels, a closely related concept (these are the dipthong /aɪ/, plus the vowels /i/, /u/, and /ɑ/. Wikipedia says that “a cardinal vowel is a vowel sound produced when the tongue is in an extreme position, either front or back, high or low.”

In conclusion, our look at the sound symbolism of /i/ with consideration of the kinesiology of the sound’s production in the mouth and the semantics of the English words with which it is most closely connected suggests a hypothesis that the sound is closely connected with existence or Being, similar to how Chinese philosophy tells us Yin is connected to Yang. If the /aɪ/ tells us a story about the self in its first-person perspective, then /i/ tells us about the existence (“being,”) of things at the beginning of or before time. It is not necessarily about the unconditional present as about that which will be, would be, and should be. No other sound in English is so closely connected to the life force of Being itself beating within every heart, according to this analysis.

About Kalen O'Tolán

Kalen O'Tolan is one of the Hanimwaa, an Immortal being who has served humankind quietly for more than 2,000 years, descended from the Son of Orr in the Third Wave. He is a philosopher, poet, and warrior. The story of his life, death, and return is told in The Kalendar, a series of fantasy/adventure books created in partnership with the Poet and Tangent Publishers.