In a neat 1965 paper on ideophones in Southern Sotho, Daniel P. Kunene writes about an ideophone derived from a gesture:
There is an interesting and amusing case of the coining of an ideophone from the type of gesture used. The gesture for running is clenched fingers, outstretched thumb pointing upwards and wiggled from side to side in imitation of the swaying of the body as the weight is transfered from the one foot to the other. Normally it is the right hand that is used. By coincidence, the thumb of the right hand represents the number ‘six’ in counting on the fingers — counting beginning on the small finger of the left hand, and ‘crossing over’ from the thumb of the left hand (five) to the thumb of the right hand (six). From this has come the ideophone siks in Sotho! This refers to running, especially fleeing from something:
- a-re síks
- he did this: siks!
- he ran away
Kunene calls this an ideophone for structural and semantic reasons: it occurs in the same syntactic slot (introduced by re like most ideophones) and it vividly depicts an event. A footnote however reveals ‘Restricted to relatively few people, it is true, but there all the same.’ The question is: does anyone know whether the form has caught on and has been used more widely? I’ve looked around on the web, but googling for short words like that seems hopeless.
- Kunene, Daniel P. 1965. The ideophone in Southern Sotho. Journal of African Languages 4: 19-39.
- Kunene, Daniel P. 1978. The Ideophone in Southern Sotho. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
- Kunene, Daniel P. 2001. Speaking the Act: The Ideophone as a Linguistic Rebel. In Ideophones, ed. F. K. Erhard Voeltz and Christa Kilian-Hatz, 183-191. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- Kunene, The Ideophone in Southern Sotho, 1987:37-38 ↩