Sounding out ideas on language, vivid sensory words, and iconicity

An ideophone poem by Stacey Tran

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.


2 responses to “An ideophone poem by Stacey Tran”

  1. Interesting. mukku is a verb in Tamil that connotes controlled exertion as well as mumbling when it occurs as “mukki munagu”.

  2. In fact, “mukki mukki” qualifies the action of speaking to mean “mumbled (when someone is scared of speaking to a person of authority or when they are not articulate enough)”. A typical usage would be avan mukki mukki pesinaan (அவன் முக்கி முக்கிப் பேசினான்.) that means “He mumbled hesitantly.”

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