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

Two talks on ideophones at SOAS

If you’re in London and able to come to SOAS at short notice, there will be two talks on ideophones tomorrow afternoon: one by my colleague Sylvia Tufvesson and one by myself. The talks will be on Wednesday, 3 June, 3-5pm, in room 4418 in SOAS. Here are the titles and abstracts:

Phonosemantics and perceptual structures: The case of Semai ideophones

by Sylvia Tufvesson, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Ideophonic vocabulary often displays some degree of sound symbolism; i.e. perceived likeness between form and meaning such that words with similar meanings resemble each other phonetically. Languages differ in their means of attaining such form-meaning mapping and these correlations can develop freely in spontaneous speech. This talk examines one such pattern, that of stem alternation. The language of focus is Semai (Austroasiatic, Mon-Khmer), spoken by an Aslian community on Peninsular Malaysia. Semai ideophones convey speakers´ perceptual experiences in semantically detailed ways, often withmultiple aspects of an experience encoded in one word. Data show that through different types of stem alternation, speakers express fine-grained semantic differences between different sensory events. This structural tool is used to switch between sensory modalities or convey differences in the internal structure of a specific sensory event. In addition, some types of alternations are used more productively than others in spontaneous speech, suggesting a continuum of conventionality in the linguistic encoding of perception.

How to do things with ideophones. Observations on the use of vivid sensory language in Siwu

by Mark Dingemanse, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Many African, Asian and American languages have a class of words called ideophones: marked words that vividly evoke sensations and perceptions. Hitherto, research on ideophony has focused almost exclusively on the form of ideophones to the neglect of their function. This talk will look at ideophones in actual usage in Siwu, a Kwa language of eastern Ghana. It will be shown that ideophones occur across a wide variety of speech genres, including conversations, arguments, insults, narratives, greeting routines, and special genres like riddles, recreational dances, and funeral dirges. A closer look at data from about 60 minutes of spontaneous conversations will elucidate the different uses to which ideophones are put by both speakers and recipients in tellings and turn-by-turn talk. Some specific genres, including funeral dirges and recreational dances, will be compared to show how the use of ideophones may be constrained by genre.

3 responses to “Two talks on ideophones at SOAS”

  1. Dear Mark, (if I may),
    I would love to see a copy of your and your colleague’s talks when you have time to send them.


    janis Nuckolls

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