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

Category: African languages

  • 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 […]

  • How is Sotho siks! doing?

    In a neat 1965 paper on ideophones in Southern Sotho, Daniel P. Kunene writes about an ideophone derived from a gesture: There is an interesting and amusing case of the coining of an ideophone from the type of gesture used. The gesture for running is clenched fingers, outstretched thumb pointing upwards and wiggled from side […]

  • In Siwu, gunpowder doesn’t just go BANG!

    Below follows an abstract for a talk I will be giving later this year at WOCAL 6. Ideophones are marked words that depict sensory imagery (cf. Voeltz and Kilian-Hatz 2001). This paper presents results of an ongoing research project into the linguistic and cultural ecology of ideophones in Siwu, a Ghana-Togo-Mountain language spoken north of […]

  • One year of ideophones

    Time flies vuuu. About one month ago, The Ideophone has silently celebrated its first birthday kananana. English interspersed with ideophones looks childishly weird susuusu and chaotic basabasa,1 and that is precisely tutuutu one of the issues I’ve been trying to address here: what is the nature of ideophony, and how is it connected to language […]

  • Early sources on African ideophones, part III: ‘Onomatopoeia as a formative principle’, 1886

    The steady influx of vocabularies of ‘exotic’ languages during the nineteenth century caused a veritable flowering of comparative philology in Western Europe. It became en vogue to be looking at languages from outside Europe, and the late nineteenth century especially seems to have been a time in which every gent in academia (and yes, they […]

  • More on bíaàà and other water ideophones

    drizzle by +lyn (Flickr) Without wanting to detract from the supreme rendering of bíààà in the previous post, here is some more linguistic information on the word (as rightly requested by Breffni), with a few other water ideophones added for good measure.

  • Bíààà

    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 […]

  • 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. Kisi [kqs] is […]

  • Somali ideophones revealed

    I missed it back in March, probably because I was in the field: a delightful post on ideophones in Somali over at Beautiful Horn of Africa. An intriguing introduction… In this fast moving 21st Century of information superhighway, you should feel obligated to expose youself to the rest of the world so that your presence […]

  • Early sources on African ideophones, part II: Vidal on Yoruba, 1852

    Part two of our series on early sources (part one is here) is dedicated to Reverend O. E. Vidal, M.A.1 who as early as 1852 made a number of very insightful comments on ideophones in Yoruba in the preface to Samuel Crowther’s Yoruba dictionary: There is another very striking feature in the Yoruba language, which […]

  • GTM Workshop 2008

    In 1968 Bernd Heine published the first comparative study of the so-called Togorestsprachen. Around the same time Kevin Ford and Mary Esther Kropp Dakubu were involved in the linguistic documentation of some of the languages of the Ghana-Togo mountains; Ford was writing a dissertation on Avatime (Siya) and doing comparative work on several other GTM […]

  • Adjectives and the gospel in Ewe

    Previously, we’ve looked at a perceptive account of ideophones in nineteenth-century Ewe by Joh. Bernard Schlegel. But Schlegel was not just a keen observator of the synchronic structure of Ewe, he also had clear ideas on where the language came from (damned primitivity) and where it was going (blessed enlightenment). A Pietist missionary above all […]

  • Under the spell of ideophones

    One1 of the nice things about fieldtrips is getting immersed in another culture area with, for one thing, different news priorities. When in Ghana, I somehow find it relieving to read the news stories about the rise of herbal medicine, spectacular roundups of Nigerian armed robbers, local chieftaincy conflicts, and parcels of cocaine that miraculously […]

  • The mysteries of Christian doctrine, or, How an African language was mistaken for an Amazonian one

    In an excellent post over at Greater Blogazonia, Lev Michael unravels a spectacular error which led several eminent specialists of American languages to believe that a West African language named Arda was actually spoken on the Amazon between the Nanay and Marañon Rivers. Lev’s post is recommended reading (as is his blog Greater Blogazonia in […]

  • Fresh wild melon and meat full of gravy: food texture verbs in G|ui (Khoisan)

    Today’s dish of expressive vocabulary is particularly tasty. It comes from G|ui, a Khoisan language of Botswana.1 To Africanists, expressive words from Khoisan languages are of special interest because Khoisan has been claimed on various occasions to lack ideophones, otherwise thought to be one of those linguistic traits that characterize Africa as a linguistic area […]

  • On the history of the term ‘ideophone’

    A common term for expressive vocabulary in African linguistics is ‘ideophone’. It has become a tradition to cite the first paragraph of Doke’s definition in any study on ideophones: Ideophone (Idéophone) [Ideophon] A vivid representation of an idea in sound. A word, often onomatopoeic, which describes a predicate, qualificative or adverb in respect to manner, […]

  • Early sources on African ideophones, part I: Schlegel on Ewe, 1857

    This is the first post in a series. Featured philologist of today is Joh. Bernhard Schlegel, for providing us with precious data on ideophones (expressives) in nineteenth-century Ewe, a Kwa language of southeastern Ghana. But since this is the first post on ideophones here, let’s first try to answer the obvious question: what are ideophones, […]