Last week the Portland Review published a beautiful ideophone poem by Stacey Tran, titled From the World Encyclopedia of Ideophones. It consists of ideophones from Navajo, Japanese, Vietnamese, Yoruba and Siwu juxtaposed with poetry lines that evoke the rich and textured meanings of these words. Read the piece here. I’m not sure I can quote it in full here but I have to quote the Siwu ideophone and the lines that it inspired:
mukumuku — (Siwu) mumbling mouth movements
A woman at the grocery store choosing an orange, one after the other tumbling onto the ground in front of her, for all that is known they might have been the ones she would have wanted to bring home to her daughter, her back rounds as she picks each one up off the confetti linoleum.
— Stacey Tran, From the World Encyclopedia of Ideophones (source)
The title is brilliant too. You will look in vain for a traditional printed book titled The World Encyclopedia of Ideophones. Yet it is true that the ideophone inventories of languages across the globe form an impressive compendium of everyday poetry. Thank you, Stacey Tran, for creating this wonderful work of art and for reminding us that ideophones are, as Evans-Pritchard wrote, poetry in ordinary language.