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

Category: Sound symbolism

  • Zap! Pow! Kraaakkkk! Ideophones for involvement at FeedBurner

    FeedBurner, a service for managing RSS feeds, provided us with a nice example of ideophonic language on its corporate blog last year: Starting right now, you just log into your Blogger account, select Settings | Site Feed, enter your FeedBurner feed address and click “Save Settings.” Zap! Pow! Kraaakkkk! Now you’ve got the complete picture […]

  • Mumbling and other mouth sensations: Ideophone proeverij II (with sound clips)

    With three mouth-related ideophones we’ve got a true proeverij this time. Welcome to dinner! You’re invited to try the first ideophone on the menu, mùkùmùkù. Feel free to sustain the mumbling to get some feeling for the word. Mùkùmùkùmùkùmùkù. The mumbling mouth movements of a toothless person. This is quite a special ideophone in that […]

  • Ideophone proeverij I

    While I’m busy analysing conversational data from the last two fieldtrips, my plan is treat you to a few fine Siwu ideophones every once in a while: an ideophone proeverij. Incidentally, the title of this mini-series testifies to a sad lexical gap in English: there seems to be no good equivalent for the Dutch ‘proeverij’, […]

  • On playthings and tools

    Let me draw your attention to the newly added quote at the top right of this page: “…they are playthings, not the tools of language.” The quote comes from Max Müller’s Lectures on the Science of Language (I’m citing the 1862 edition). I wrote a little about the historical context of that quote recently but […]

  • Three misconceptions about ideophones

    In a previous post I have outlined the history of the term ideophone. This post takes on three common misunderstandings about the nature of ideophones. As an added bonus, if you read all three, you get one for free. The working definition I adopt for ‘ideophones’ is the following: Marked words that depict sensory imagery. […]

  • 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 […]

  • 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 […]

  • Do you know this feeling?

    What better way to compensate for the overload of text in the previous posts than with some excellent illustrations of Japanese gitaigo? I have recently been looking at Taro Gomi’s delightful Illustrated Dictionary of Japanese Onomatopoeic Expressions, featuring cartoon-like depictions of almost 200 Japanese sound-symbolic words used to evoke certain sensations, feelings, and sensory perceptions.

  • Expressive verbs in Tuareg

    Some years ago I was following a course by Maarten Kossmann on Tuareg (Tamasheq, Tamajeq, Tamahaq). It was thoroughly enjoyable. After the first lecture we were all alotted a letter of the great Dictionnaire Touareg — Français1 (a consonant, obviously), and for the remainder of the course these 15 to 40 dictionary pages would form […]

  • w00t chosen ‘word of 2007’

    Languagehat’s news flash on w00t (chosen as the Merriam-Webster’s Word of ’07) piqued my interest. A quote: There’s a lot of “l33t speak” I don’t care for, but I’ve always liked w00t; there’s something primally yawpish about it, and I’m glad to see it get this recognition. Now, I have no idea what ‘yawpish’ is, […]

  • 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, […]