The sound of rain falling, in your ears

More from the missed-while-I-was-in-the-field dept.: back in August, artisan jewelry shop My Word! featured a beautiful pair of earrings decorated with the Kisi ideophone bákàlà-bákàlà for ‘the sound of big, fat raindrops.’ I love the design, in which colour, shape and size work together to recreate the event evoked by the ideophone.

bákàlà 'big fat raindrops falling'
Earrings with the Kisi ideophone bákàlà-bákàlà, by My Word! jewelry

Kisi [kqs] is spoken by upwards of 250,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. It is a member of the Southern branch of Atlantic, fairly closely related to Temne, Gola, Sherbro, and Krim. Its ideophonic system is well-known through George T. Childs’ 1988 dissertation, The phonology and morphology of Kisi.

I decided to look up the ideophone written on the earrings, and sure enough, there it is on page 182: “bákàlà-bákàlà, sound of rain falling in single, heavy droplets”. It is one of those Kisi ideophones which always come in reduplicated form, which reinforces the happy match between the word and the product.

Behind My Word! is Joanna Taylor, a paper jewelry artist with an academic background in linguistics. I guess it figures that the linguistic data is accurate, right down to the tone marks (High-Low-Low). These earrings, along with two other Kisi pieces, are part of her Project Panglossia, in which she makes (at least) two pieces per week in a language other than English in celebration of 2008, the UN’s International Year of Languages. Lovely!


  1. Childs, George Tucker. 1988. The phonology and morphology of Kisi. PhD Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

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