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

Author: mark

  • Semantic primitives and conceptual decomposition

    Thought-provoking discussion on semantic primitives and conceptual decomposition this morning at @in_interaction, led by Guillermo Montero-Melis. We went from Wittgenstein & Osgood via Rosch & Lakoff to Kemp & Tenenbaum and recent work by Mitchell, Binder, and others. The paper that drew most attention was Binder et al. 2016’s ‘Toward a brain-based conceptual semantic representation’ […]

  • Playful iconicity: Having fun with words

    What do words like waddle, slobber, tingle, oink, and zigzag have in common? These words sound funny, but they are also iconic, with forms that resemble aspects of their meanings. In a new paper we investigate the link between funniness and iconicity in 70,000 English words. “This is play” The starting point is a theory about metacommunication: some words (or signs) are more striking than others in terms of […]

  • Narrative CV as an experiment in convergent cultural evolution

    NWO introduces a narrative CV, and I have some thoughts. Sounds like a convoluted cultural evolution experiment: a high stakes game in which applicants and reviewers independently construe models of good narratives, everything passes through a reductive score bottleneck, and next generations never have direct access to prior rounds. Selection dichotomises continuous scores and only […]

  • Een week @NL_Wetenschap

    In voorjaar 2019 mocht ik een week twitteren in naam der wetenschap voor het wissel-account @NL_Wetenschap (10-17 februari 2019). Omdat het account steeds rouleert van wetenschapper naar wetenschapper en omdat Twitter natuurlijk altijd in beweging blijft is het moeilijk om achteraf een goede indruk te krijgen van zo’n week. Daarom hier een overzichtje in blog-vorm. […]

  • Micromoments in music

    This post originated as a twitter thread. 1 One of my favourite micromoments in music: the creak at 1:15 in Old Folks by Miles Davis. Perfectly timed with an inbreath, I always imagine Davis leaning back in his chair, pure concentration building up for the next lyrical phrase. 2 Another musical #micromoment — the signature […]

  • Integrating Iconicity: session at ICLC15

    I’m happy to co-convene a session to take place at the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference in Nishinomiya, Japan. The session and general discussion will be chaired by Thomas van Hoey (National Taiwan University) and Jonas Nölle (University of Edinburgh) and has a diverse roster of speakers. Friday August 9, Room 301, 13:15 to 17:25 Speakers: […]

  • Rethinking Marginality: panel on interjections & interaction at IPRA

    We’re convening a panel at the 16th International Pragmatics Conference in Hong Kong next week. This doubles as the inaugural workshop of my VIDI project Elementary Particles of Conversation. The workshop ties into the overall theme of the conference, which is “Pragmatics at the Margins”. Have a look at the panel programme & abstracts (PDF), […]

  • The role of serendipity in shaping fundamental research

    After much postponement, writing the final report for my NWO Veni grant (2015-2018) turned out to be an unexpected pleasure. It made me realise a couple of things — key among them the role of serendipity in shaping fundamental research. The project was called “Towards a science of linguistic depiction”. Looking at the publications that […]

  • What is ‘non-lexical’? Notes on non-lexical vocalisations, II

    New! Some of this is now published here (open access, free for all!): Dingemanse, Mark. 2020. Between Sound and Speech: Liminal Signs in Interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 53(1), 188–196.  doi:10.1080/08351813.2020.1712967 (PDF) TL;DR — Non-lexical is a term people use for things that seem borderline linguistic, like sniffs, coughs, and grunts. However, it’s rarely a great […]

  • A variety of vocal depictions: Notes on non-lexical vocalisations, I

    Last week I was happy to present my work at a workshop on Ideophones and nonlexical vocalisations in Linköping, Sweden, organised by Leelo Keevallik and Emily Hofstetter. This was the kick-off for a new project on “Non-lexical vocalisations“. It was my first time in Linköping and it was great getting to know the vibrant community of […]

  • Sign names and theories of naming

    Every time I learn new name signs —e.g. during my UCL visit hosted by @gab_hodge— I’m struck by how they call into question Searle’s (spoken English-based) arguments about how proper names work. Many sign names appear to be descriptive (or at least originate as descriptions) Moreover, often one gets the ‘baptismal story’ along with learning […]

  • John Benjamins collective volumes linguistics CSL style

    Linguists will know John Benjamins as one of the nicer academic publishing houses, not quite so terrible as Elsevier or other profiteering behemoths, and one with really good typography to boot. Iconicity afficionados will probably know the Iconicity in Language and Literature series published by Benjamins. One of my first articles on ideophones and iconicity appeared […]

  • Slides for a hands-on Zotero workshop

    One of the key tasks scientists need to master is how to manage bibliographic information: collecting relevant literature, building a digital library, and handling citations and bibliographies during writing. This tutorial introduces Zotero (, an easy to use reference management tool made by scholars for scholars. The tutorial covers the basics of using Zotero for […]

  • How often does Google Scholar update citation counts?

    TL;DR: every other day. Read on for details. Many scientists use Google Scholar to find papers, get alerts about new work, and —if they have a profile— display a publication list which tracks citations. What is the Google Scholar update frequency? It occurred to me that we have a perfect way to check this in […]

  • New paper: Redrawing the margins of language

    Just out in Glossa, the premier open access journal of general linguistics: Dingemanse, Mark. 2018. “Redrawing the Margins of Language: Lessons from Research on Ideophones.” Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics 3 (1): 1–30. doi:10.5334/gjgl.444. (download PDF) In this paper I take up the theme of marginality (as distinct from rarity) from my 2017 essay, […]

  • When publication lag turns predictions into postdictions

    In late 2011, I defended my PhD thesis and submitted two papers on ideophones. One to Language and Linguistics Compass, where it was reviewed, revised and accepted in May 2012. It appeared in late 2012 and against all odds (for a topic so obscure) went on to become the #1 most cited article in that […]

  • Firth on the analysis of conversation (1935): sequence and social accountability

    Here are some insights from J.R. Firth in 1935 that offer an interesting early outlook on language use in social interaction. Firth (1890-1960) was an expert in phonetics and prosody, but always stressed the importance of the larger context in which words and utterances occurred. In this piece, he turns to conversation as a source of […]

  • Two classic papers on ideophones and iconicity by Westermann (PDF)

    Two duck-related ideophones exist in varieties of Ewe, spoken in Eastern Ghana: a simple kpakpa imitating the sound; and a form dabodabo that seems more mysterious at first sight. In an early paper on ideophones (available below), linguist Diedrich Westermann describes a discussion about these words with his Ewe consultant: Ewe has two dialectally separated words for duck, […]

  • Waarom ik mijn werk als wetenschapper zo leuk vind

    Een hele eer: de redactie van New Scientist heeft me geselecteerd voor hun top 25 van talentvolle jonge wetenschappers. Er zit ook nog een populariteitswedstrijd aan vast waarin één ‘winnaar’ aangewezen wordt op grond van een vakjury en publieksstemmen (wat natuurlijk vooral een slimme manier is van New Scientist om aandacht te genereren voor hun merk). Geen […]

  • Making and breaking iconicity

    Making and breaking iconicity

    Making and breaking iconicity was the theme of a plenary lecture I gave at the 6th conference of the Scandinavian Association for Language and Cognition (SALC VI) in Lund. Here’s the opening slide: Research on iconicity and sound symbolism has long focused on how iconic associations are made — finding universal crossmodal associations using pseudowords like bouba […]