Iconicity, performance and depiction in ideophones

One of the recurring points in the literature on ideophones is that they are pervasively iconic, or sound-symbolic, phonosemantic, mimetic. All of these roughly interchangeable terms have the same basic import, namely that ideophones are not just arbitrary linguistic signs but that there is in them some perceived resemblance between their form and meaning. In this chapter I explore this idea. I show that there are some significant types of iconic mappings in Siwu ideophones, but I also argue that there are limits to iconicity, that performance characteristics are often overlooked but of crucial importance, and that ideophones are in fact best seen as primarily depictive rather than iconic words.


Extract 7.1: Pounding
Extract 7.2: Sieving
Folk definition of kpoo 'silent' by Ella
Extract 7.4 Breaching experiment: kpoo ‘quiet’
Extract 7.5 Breaching experiment: kpɔ, kpɔ ‘pounding’

Other trials from the breaching experiment

Gidigidi ‘energetically’, pronounced very slowly
1. As corrected by AW:
2. As corrected by OG & co.:
Breaching experiment: kpu ‘sound of impact’, lengthened to kpuuuuu
1. As corrected by AW:
2. As corrected by OG & co.: