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

Category: Ideophones

  • New paper – What do we really measure when we measure iconicity?

    It’s a common misconception that iconicity or sound symbolism is universal, perpetuated in part by the almost universal success of famous experiments involving pseudowords like bouba and kiki. But iconicity in natural languages is much more messy than paradigms like bouba-kiki suggest. Which begs the question, what do we really measure when we measure iconicity? This is what our new paper investigates.

  • The sound of rain, softly falling (Tucker Childs, 1948-2021)

    News just reached me that we have lost a dear colleague and one of the people responsible for introducing the world of linguistics to African ideophones: George Tucker Childs, 1948-2021. Tucker was a cheerful presence in the field of African linguistics and a towering figure in the subfield that he and I had in common, […]

  • Farewell, Mr. Ideophone: William J. Samarin (1926-2020)

    I note with sadness that William J. Samarin has passed away in Toronto on January 16, 2020 at the age of 93. An all too short obituary notes that he was “known for his work on the language of religion and on two Central African languages: Sango and Gbeya”. In linguistics, Samarin was of course […]

  • Integrating Iconicity: session at ICLC15

    I’m happy to co-convene a session to take place at the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference in Nishinomiya, Japan. The session and general discussion will be chaired by Thomas van Hoey (National Taiwan University) and Jonas Nölle (University of Edinburgh) and has a diverse roster of speakers. Friday August 9, Room 301, 13:15 to 17:25 Speakers: […]

  • 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, […]

  • When publication lag turns predictions into postdictions

    In late 2011, I defended my PhD thesis and submitted two papers on ideophones. One to Language and Linguistics Compass, where it was reviewed, revised and accepted in May 2012. It appeared in late 2012 and against all odds (for a topic so obscure) went on to become the #1 most cited article in that […]

  • Making and breaking iconicity

    Making and breaking iconicity

    Making and breaking iconicity was the theme of a plenary lecture I gave at the 6th conference of the Scandinavian Association for Language and Cognition (SALC VI) in Lund. Here’s the opening slide: Research on iconicity and sound symbolism has long focused on how iconic associations are made — finding universal crossmodal associations using pseudowords like bouba […]

  • Facts and and fiction about iconicity: the story of ideophones

    Here’s the abstract for the keynote lecture I’ll be giving at the 11th Symposium on Iconicity in Language and Literature in Brighton, April 6-8, 2017 (site). The notion of iconicity has seen a remarkable increase in prominence in recent years. No longer the marginal phenomenon it once was, it has become a canvas upon which we […]

  • Ideophones, expressiveness and grammatical integration

    Ideophones —vivid sensory words found in many of the world’s languages— are often described as having little or no morphosyntax. That simple statement conceals an interesting puzzle. It is not often that we can define a word class across languages in terms of its syntax (or lack thereof). After all, most major types of word […]

  • Sound symbolism boosts novel word learning: comparing ideophones and adjectives

    Sound symbolism boosts novel word learning: comparing ideophones and adjectives

    We have a new paper out. It’s actually been available since February in an online-first version, but for those of us who love page numbers and dead trees, the journal has now printed it in its August issue on pages 1274-1281. Citation: Lockwood, G., Dingemanse, M., & Hagoort, P. (2016). Sound-symbolism boosts novel word learning […]

  • What sound symbolism can and cannot do: new paper in Language

    We have a new paper out in Language: Dingemanse, Mark, Will Schuerman, Eva Reinisch, Sylvia Tufvesson, and Holger Mitterer. 2016. “What Sound Symbolism Can and Cannot Do: Testing the Iconicity of Ideophones from Five Languages.” Language 92 (2): e117–33. doi:10.1353/lan.2016.0034 The basic finding is this: people are sensitive to the meaning of ideophones they’ve never heard, […]

  • Arbitrariness, iconicity and systematicity in language

    Just out in Trends in Cognitive Sciences: a review paper by yours truly with Damián Blasi, Gary Lupyan, Morten Christiansen and Padraic Monaghan. It is titled “Arbitrariness, iconicity and systematicity in language”. You can download it here (PDF). Here is a simple summary: An important principle in linguistics is that words show no predictable relation between their form and […]

  • Hockett on arbitrariness and iconicity

    Charles Hockett had interesting views on the relation between iconicity and arbitrariness. Here is a key quote: The difference of dimensionality means that signages1 can be iconic to an extent to which languages cannot; and they are, even though, as Frishberg (1975) tells us, the trend in Ameslan for over a century has been towards more and more conventionalization. […]

  • African ideophones and their contribution to linguistics — workshop at WOCAL8 in Kyoto, Aug 2015

    Organisers Dr. Mark Dingemanse (Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen) Prof. Sharon Rose (University of California, San Diego) African ideophones and their contribution to linguistics Africa’s linguistic diversity has impacted the study of language in many ways. The articulatory phonetics of the Khoi and San languages prompted methodological innovations in phonetics, the tonal systems of West-African languages spurred the […]

  • Von Humboldt on depiction in speech

    Where moderation is not utterly overstepped, the wealth of sound in languages can be compared to coloration in painting. The impression of both evokes a similar feeling; and even thought reacts differently if, like a mere outline, it emerges in greater nakedness, or appears, if we may so put it, more coloured by language. Wilhelm […]

  • Sound symbolism in language: Does nurunuru mean dry or slimy?

    Guest posting by Gwilym Lockwood, PhD student in the Neurobiology of Language Department at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. Note: We have since published several papers showing that people can indeed guess and learn the meaning of ideophones at a level above chance: Dingemanse, Mark & Schuerman, Will & Reinisch, Eva & Tufvesson, Sylvia […]

  • How to paint with language

    How to paint with language

    Words evolve not as blobs of ink on paper but in face to face interaction. The nature of language as fundamentally interactive and multimodal is shown by the study of ideophones, vivid sensory words that thrive in conversations around the world. The ways in which these “Lautbilder” enable precise communication about sensory knowledge has now […]

  • Expressiveness and system integration

    Just a heads-up to let interested readers know of a newish article on the morphosyntactic typology of ideophones by yours truly: Expressiveness and system integration. On the typology of ideophones, with special reference to Siwu (PDF). Completed in May 2012, it has been peer reviewed and accepted, and is due to appear in a special issue […]

  • 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 […]

  • Better science through listening to lay people

    Slides for a presentation given at the ECSITE 2013 Annual Conference on science communication. I spoke in a session convened by Alex Verkade (De Praktijk) and Jen Wong (Guerilla Science). The other speakers in the session were Bas Haring on ‘Ignorance is a virtue’, and Jen Wong on ‘Mixing science with art, music and play’. We […]