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


The card arrived in the mail today, so I can now call myself the lucky owner of this rendition of the beautiful Kisi ideophone bíààà — ‘rain softly falling’.

Some time ago I wrote about Taro Gomi’s illustrations of Japanese ideophones, citing his warning that

“Linguists, who are always described by such orthodox adjectives as kashikoi (wise), tadashii (right), erai (great), or rippana (respected), cannot handle them” (1989:iii).

No matter how sympathetic I am to that provocative statement, it is not entirely true — if only because the work of art above was made by someone with an academic background in linguistics.

What it makes clear, though —and this is of course what Gomi means, and where I agree with him— is that ideophones deserve special treatment.

(See my previous post for background info on the artist and on Kisi.)


2 responses to “Bíààà”

  1. It is beautiful, and I’m always fascinated by your accounts of ideophones. But can you give an indication of the pronunciation of this one (and others)? IPA and/or – better – a sound file? I presume the segmental phonemes are straightforward enough, but I don’t have a good sense of what the tones sound like. And does “ààà” imply three syllables, or just one with the same tone?

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