OMC-A Brief Introduction
It would require a rather large volume to detail how the OMC principle is applied to all phonetic segments, phonemes, and simple morphemes in a language. However, I can illustrate the concept briefly and in general terms as it is applied to phonetic segment(s) represented by one character of the alphabet.
Lets take the phonetic segment [ej] and [a] based upon the International Phonetic Alphabet. In American English, [ej] and [a] are associated with the character "A" and are phonemes. In very basic terms, to produce the sound, [ej], requires opening the mouth slightly and sidewise stretching both upper and lower lip an equal amount and raising the tongue slightly so that it does not touch the interior of the mouth. [a] is produced with the lips stretched vertically and the tongue in a slightly raised position , also, so it does not touch the interior of the mouth. The configuration of the tongue in the oral cavity serves as a metaphor domain of non-committance, a state of being, not fixated by another object or non-opposing which represents the conceptual metaphor domain by which the sound acquires semantic value. The characteristic semantic values associated with the sounds [ej] and [a], based upon OMC, are thus "air", "airborne", about", "a", "around", etc. which are the metaphorical semantic target values consistent with the metaphor domain of the configuration of the tongue in the oral cavity which produces the sound. Furthermore, since the shape of the letter "A" mimics how [ej] and [a] are orally produced, the character takes on a ideogrammatic quality and sure enough, when we think about concepts such as “air”, “airborne”, “roundabout”, “around”, we, also, in the back of our minds think about the character "A" and associate the character with the conceptual metaphor it invokes. This metaphorical relationship between metaphorical domain of oral cavity configuration in producing the phonetic segments to semantic target value of the sound produced can be made with all phonetic segments in the language.
It should be pointed out that not all phonetic segments acquire their semantic values based upon the metaphor of oral configuration that produces the sound. In some instances, the phonetic segments acquire their semantic values based upon their metaphorical association with sounds in the environment or Environmental Metaphor Construct (EMC). It appears likely that all languages depend on both OMC and EMC but in varying degrees, the former being the more important. The remaining alternative in which a phonetic segment acquires semantic value is through onomatopoeicism, words that sound like the things they name. In the majority of languages, however, onomatopoeic words represent a small fraction of a language's total morphemic repertoire and the onomatopoeic phonetic segments’ semantic values only apply when used in the onomatopoeic word. In other words, semantic values of onomatopoeic phonetic segments are special cases that are temporary and specialized for the particular onomatopoeic word they are contained in, thus, the phenomenon of onomatopoeicism does not contradict the principle of OMC or EMC. It should be pointed out, however, that many words thought to be onomatopoeic involve to varying degrees OMC phonetic segments. Take for instance the word "sizzle". Things that "sizzle" actually "izzle" or "zizzle" and do not produce the sound associated with the phonetic segment associated with "s". Things that "sizzle" do engage in a process that is metaphorically associated with the oral production of the "s" sound which involves an intense and focused blowing out of air with the tongue perched near the lips. Thus, the "s" in "sizzle" is actually OMC based.
Many , if not all, of the anomalous features in language which Chomsky has relied upon in establishing his nativistic point of view of language can be explained based upon OMC ( and to a lesser extent EMC). I will not demonstrate these OMC explanations here in that that would require a prolonged undertaking but will do so in other writings. Suffice it to say that the OMC principle does not necessarily refute the nativism argument but merely requires proponents of that argument to look elsewhere in support thereof. The principle of OMC transforms the nativism versus empiricism debate into one of appropriate terminology usage since, from the perspective of neurons and physiological processes metaphorically interacting with one another and the production of sound and language, nativism and empiricism, in essence, begin to merge.
My principle of OMC stipulates that, MCW's, comprising an average 60-65% of written and spoken words and whose semantic values are unaffected by context and are acquired based upon OMC ( and to a lesser extent EMC) serve as the associative markers or content addressable memories in specific brain loci that serve to determine the generative grammar, and phonological and morphological rules of the language. However, it is my further contention that the mechanism just described is not unique to language but is what the brain essentially does in any ability acquisition that is acquired naturally or more rapidly than what could be explained by mere external pedagoguery. Thus, it becomes rather meaningless to refer to a unique language apparatus as Chomsky does when it appears what we are dealing with is a common integrative cognitive process inherent in the brain which is implemented in the learning acquisition of all abilities.
My CD, "The Myth of the LAD" (Lecture 2), further expounds on this nativism versus empiricism debate which I am making freely available to anyone for a limited time. Simply send me an e-mail with your address if you would like to receive this CD.
OMC and EMC not only serve to explain the grammatical , phonological, and semantic structure of language, but, also serve as investigative probes into the human species evolutionary history. Certainly the sounds and the metaphor we establish and rely upon in establishing our communicative medium reveal much about the historical importance of sounds in our evolutionary development and , also, environmental conditions we had to overcome and conceptual perspectives we evolved in overcoming environmental conditions.
Finally, I should state that my principle of the OMC holds tremendous promise for improving automated voice systems, the most obvious being lessening the dependency of these systems on cross referencing lexicons to voice patterns and, thus, improving reaction times and spontaneity, etc. There are many new prototypes that can and probably will be designed based upon OMC that will be more efficient, and would unequivocally demonstrate that the OMC principle is, indeed, a valid theoretical concept that has useful practical application.
---Asa M. Stepak