The shape of sound

Alice’s adventures through the Looking Glass includes some playful forays into the nature of speech. When Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, their conversation explores the nature of words and meaning of sounds. 

Alice through the looking glass

Alice through the looking glass

“My name is Alice…“ “It’s a stupid enough name!” Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. “What does it mean?“ “Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully. “Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: “My name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”

Can a two-word phrase like Humpty Dumpty evoke his “handsome shape” better than some other random collection of sounds? This is a philosophical question that dates back to Greek philosophers such as Plato (around 450 BCE). In the past, scientists assumed words were arbitrary and that there was no innate meaning in sounds. But more and more researchers now think that Humpty may have been right…

This is yours and your children’s chance to add to the research and discover if sounds really can suggest shapes. The aim of this creative exercise is to draw the shape of your name.  If you follow the directions and tips below it will be fun and easy! 

What you need

  • One sheet of paper 
  • A pencil and a black marker or felt pen 

How to play

Say your name out loud and repeat it a few times. What shape is your name? Once you have identified the shape of your name’s sound, draw it. (Follow the tips below if you need…)

Tips

1. Think about each letter of your name. For example, Alice: A L I C E 

2. Think about shapes. 

  • Questions: What shape does the sound of the letters remind you of? Is it a big sound? Or a small one? Is it a full shape or an empty shape? Is it a flat shape or a 3D shape?  

3. Notice the shape your lips make as your articulate the sounds.

  • Questions:  Is it a sharp shape, a round shape? Is it a long shape, a short one? 

4. Choose the shapes for each letter sound and start to put them together. 

  • Questions: How does the letter A interact with the L, the L with the C and so on? Does the letter A wish to be close to L or far away? Does the sound shape of the letter C wish to intersect the sound shape of the letter E? And if so, how?

6. Draw the shape of your name. 

How did you like this game?

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