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

Category: Early sources

  • A serendipitous wormhole into the history of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis (EMCA)

    A serendipitous wormhole into the history of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis (EMCA)

    A serendipitous wormhole into #EMCA history. I picked up Sudnow’s piano course online and diligently work through the lessons. Guess what he says some time into the audio-recorded version of his 1988 Chicago weekend seminar (see lines 7-11) [Chicago, 1988. Audio recording of David Sudnow’s weekend seminar] We learn too quickly and cannot afford to […]

  • The Gruner Map: a 1913 map of the Togo Plateau in present-day Ghana

    The Gruner Map: a 1913 map of the Togo Plateau in present-day Ghana

    Few historical maps of Ghana’s Volta and Oti regions have been invested with so much political and sociohistorical meaning as Hans Gruner’s 1913 map of the Togo Plateau. Gruner, stationed for over twenty years at Misahöhe in present-day Togo, was a long-time colonial administrator known for his ethnographical and historical knowledge of the area. His […]

  • New paper: Redrawing the margins of language

    Just out in Glossa, the premier open access journal of general linguistics: Dingemanse, Mark. 2018. “Redrawing the Margins of Language: Lessons from Research on Ideophones.” Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics 3 (1): 1–30. doi:10.5334/gjgl.444. (download PDF) In this paper I take up the theme of marginality (as distinct from rarity) from my 2017 essay, […]

  • Firth on the analysis of conversation (1935): sequence and social accountability

    Here are some insights from J.R. Firth in 1935 that offer an interesting early outlook on language use in social interaction. Firth (1890-1960) was an expert in phonetics and prosody, but always stressed the importance of the larger context in which words and utterances occurred. In this piece, he turns to conversation as a source of […]

  • Ideophones in Bakairi, Brasil, 1894

    Last year Sabine Reiter defended an interesting PhD thesis on ideophones in Awetí, a Tupian language spoken in the Upper Xingu area of central Brazil. In the introduction, she mentions an early source on ideophones in this area. It’s a vivid description of a native of Xingu felling a tree, and it’s full of ideophones […]

  • Evolving words — now on DLC

    “A struggle for life is constantly going on among quotations in academic writings. The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue.” Sounds familiar? Perhaps because it’s a variation on a bon mot attributed to Charles Darwin that you may have seen in […]

  • Preview: a 1913 map of the Togo Hills

    Preview: a 1913 map of the Togo Hills

    With the help of the Radboud University and MPI Nijmegen librarians I’ve been tracking down an obscure but historically important map of the Togo Hills area in eastern Ghana. It’s a pretty large map, originally made available as an Appendix to a 1913 issue of the Mitteilungen aus den deutschen Schutzgebieten. I plan to make the whole […]

  • Robertson’s Report on the geology of Western Togoland (1921)

    One of the earliest English sources on the geology of what is today the Volta Region in eastern Ghana is a survey report by Thomas Robertson. It was published in 1921 by the Gold Coast Geological Survey in Accra. The economical goals of the survey are clear from Robertson’s repeated examination of rivers for gold […]

  • A visit to Akpafu by Nicolas Clerk, 1889

    Travel journals provide some of the first written sources on Akpafu. I have previously posted an excerpt from a 1887 journal by David Asante. This here is an excerpt from a similar journey two years later. The whole journey took three months, but this excerpt relates only a trip to two Akpafu towns on 17-18 […]

  • H.B.K. Ogbete, A history of the Akpafus

    One of the most interesting sources on the history and customs of the Mawu people of eastern Ghana (also known as the Akpafu) is a little book written in 1998 by Rev. H.B.K. Ogbete. This book contains a wealth of material: it records oral traditions, names of ancestors and chiefs, and a lot of background […]

  • A visit to Akpafu by David Asante, 1887

    This is the first ever published account of a visit to Akpafu. It was written down by David Asante, a Twi pastor who travelled throughout today’s Volta Region in the company of some white missionaries. The journey took place in January 1887; the date of the visit to Akpafu was January 25th, 1887. The account […]

  • Aduerbia sonus: Ideophones in two 17th century grammars of Japanese

    One of my projects here at The Ideophone has been to track down early sources on ideophonic phenomena. For example, I have suggested that we may call the 1850’s the decade of the discovery of ideophones in African linguistics. But we can push back the linguistic discovery of ideophones a little further by looking to […]

  • Early sources on African ideophones, part IV: S.W. Koelle on Kanuri, 1854

    It is high time for a continuation of our series honouring the ancestors of ideophone studies. Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle is one of the founding fathers of African linguistics, and 1854 was one of his more productive years. In the same year, besides his Kanuri grammar (from which the excerpt below is taken), he issued what […]

  • Bingo! Refinding the oldest specimen of Siwu

    The oldest written fragments of Siwu found so far come from Rudolph Plehn (1898).1 Besides some words and phrases (edited and published in 1899 by his friend Seidel), Plehn took down two lines of songs. To one of them I devoted a post some time ago. Now I’ve found a full transcription of the other, […]

  • Scandalised missionaries and quite a new class of priests: some unforeseen effects of early missionary efforts in the Gold Coast

    In pursuit of early written sources about Kawu I came across a useful summary of explorations in the Volta Basin in the 1870s and 1880s. The document is clearly based on some dead serious German reports from around the same time, but it is written in a dry tone with barely submerged irony as only […]

  • 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 […]

  • 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 […]

  • Kawu in January 1887

    The earliest description of Kawu (Akpafu) I have found so far is quite special in that it was written by an African in an African language. A German translation of it appeared in 1889 and can be found below. The original is a report of a travel made in early 1887 by David Asante. David […]

  • 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 […]

  • Pfisterer on Akpafu, 1904 (part II)

    Today’s posting brings you the second part of Pfisterer’s 1904 article (see the previous posting for details on the context and provenance of this piece of missionary writing). This part gives us information on religious beliefs; myths of origin; the afterlife and reincarnation; so-called ‘fetishes’ (kùɣɔ/àɣɔ in Siwu) and how they are to be served […]