Ideophone proeverij I

kùrodzai te kùfɛrɛrɛ ɣèèè: Queleas come to drink in thousands at dusk and the last rays light up their wings. Photo © Wildcaster
kùrodzai te kùfɛrɛrɛ ɣèèè: Queleas come to drink in thousands at dusk and the last rays light up their wings. Photo © Wildcaster

While I’m busy analysing conversational data from the last two fieldtrips, my plan is treat you to a few fine Siwu ideophones every once in a while: an ideophone proeverij.

Incidentally, the title of this mini-series testifies to a sad lexical gap in English: there seems to be no good equivalent for the Dutch ‘proeverij’, a noun derived from the verb proeven ‘to taste’ 1, blandly translatable as ‘tasting event’ but rich with layers of allusions to culinary delight and bon-vivantism. However, let’s not worry too much about the lexical poverty of English and go straight on to savour some Siwu sound symbolism.


of cutting in a sawing movement

ɔ̀to ɔtu kɔkɔ́ ítì tsɔ̀kwɛtsɔ̀kwɛ • he is cutting off the fowl’s head in a sawing movement ~
[ʕèèè] of living beings moving in great numbers (swarm, flock)
màturi sɛ́ ɣèèè • people are swarming ~ [lit. they go ~]
kùbɔibi sɛ ɣèèè • the insects are swarming ~ [lit. they go ~]
kùrodzai te kùfɛrɛrɛ ɣèèè, ɔ̀wuri amɛ • the birds are flying ~ in the sky
àkpɛ sɛ ɣèèè ndu amɛ • the fishes go ~ in the water

Siwu ideophones display a weak iconic relationship between the form of the ideophone and the aspectual structure of the event evoked; in other words, they usually look like the events they depict. Reduplication for example evokes repetition, distribution, plurality, or a combination of these. In tsɔ̀kwɛtsɔ̀kwɛ above, reduplication is coupled with alternating vowel and tone patterns that bring into focus the irregularity of the sawing event. In contrast to this, non-reduplicated monosyllabic ideophones like ɣèèè depict sensory events as unsegmented or unitary.

The ideophone ɣèèè is interesting in this respect because it could also have focused on the pluractional sense of a swarming event — in which case you would expect a reduplicated form. This sense is out of focus however, as the gesture that regularly accompanies the ideophone also shows. 2 It is in focus, I would argue, in an old friend of ours: Japanese uja uja, another ideophone depicting a swarming event.


  1. Plus the suffix -rij, cognate with English -(e)ry, ‘activity or place related to’, ultimately from French of course.[]
  2. I ought to be able to show you this, but I’m not decided yet how I’m going to add video to this blog.[]

2 thoughts on “Ideophone proeverij I”

  1. Video would be great. Does gesture systematically accompany (Siwu and other) ideophones? If so, how conventionalised are they?

  2. Breffni, yes, gestures do often accompany Siwu ideophones, though their prevalence seems to depend on the type of discourse and various other factures. Most of the gestures are unconventionalized and heavily iconic (imagistic, depictive).

    (As for video, there are also privacy issues involved. I don’t necessarily want to put my assistants on YouTube and it’s not entirely clear what kind of other options there are. Bandwidth is another factor.)

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