LINGUIST List 2.718

Sun 27 Oct 1991

Disc: Ideophones

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Herb Stahlke, More on ideophones
  2. Christopher Brockett, Re: 2.706 Onomatopenia
  3. ,sd, Re: 2.706 Onomatopenia
  4. Nancy L. Dray, Wham! Bam! binj-binj-binj...

Message 1: More on ideophones

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1991 10:32 EST
Subject: More on ideophones
I don't know how broad the set of words is that Alan Dench is dealing
with. Certainly in many West African languages the class of ideophone
is more a matter of morphophonology than of lexicon. Ideophones can
be nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and even verbs, provided those
categories can all be justified in a particular language. In Yatye (O
is open o, N is angma, S is ash), O`Ngba`ra`Ngba` means "oil drum" and
O`ba`ka`ri'Ngba`Ngba` is a rather raucous sounding species of
hornbill. tSOO` is descriptive of the sound made when urinating, to
keep close to the apparent theme of this discussion, and waa'tsa'tsa'
(which may be continued with more of tsa') means something like
completely. The first two are onomatopoeic nouns, the third an
onomatopoeic adverb, and the last an adverb that is not onomatopoeic
but still and ideophone.
One of the questions about ideophones in Yoruba is whether they are a
morphophonologically distinct class from other words. They exhibit
types of tonal, phonotactic, and reduplicative behavior that would
seem to suggest that they are, but it's a case where you cannot
provide a set of descriptive properties that is both necessary and
sufficient. There are many non-ideophonic nouns, for example, that
share some of the properties of ideophones, such as switching the
value of the feature gravity from syllable to syllable, but not
potential for reduplication.
Before rejecting the term ideophone for the Australian phenomena, I
would want to know whether the class of words Dench is working on is
similarly ill-defined.
Herb Stahlke
Ball State University
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Message 2: Re: 2.706 Onomatopenia

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 1991 12:20:36 -0700 (PDT)
From: Christopher Brockett <>
Subject: Re: 2.706 Onomatopenia
The term commonly employed with respect to similar sound symbolism in
Japanese is 'mimetic.' Traditional Japanese grammar distinguishes between
two types: *giseigo* or onomatapoeia, and *gitaigo* or words representing
states or manner.
Joe Grimes once suggested to me that kinesthetic might be an appropriate
catchall term for these.
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Message 3: Re: 2.706 Onomatopenia

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 91 12:29:49 EST
From: ,sd <>
Subject: Re: 2.706 Onomatopenia
 Re: Bif! Bap! Kapow! --
 Why not use one of the above?!? Personally, I like the idea of
having a word-form labled/known as a 'kapow'.
 Sean Day
 Purdue University/
 Undue Perversity
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Message 4: Wham! Bam! binj-binj-binj...

Date: Sat, 26 Oct 91 17:56:10 CDT
From: Nancy L. Dray <>
Subject: Wham! Bam! binj-binj-binj...
A. Dench's examples kind of put one in mind of a porno version of the
old Batman series (or comic book if you prefer)... Actually, the idea
of well-crafted comic-book versions of myth-texts in the vernacular,
with expressions such as these splashed across the frames at appropriate
moments, is oddly appealing.... (or perhaps I'm just weird....)
...but never mind that, I think the term Dench is looking for is
"expressives"; this term was coined by Gerard Diffloth (formerly
of the University of Chicago, now at Cornell, I believe) to refer to a
kind of productive word-class especially evident in the many
Asian languages that Diffloth specializes in, though also to be found
(or, at least, related phenomena are also to be found) in many other
languages. Some references to Diffloth's work are:
Diffloth, Gerard. 1972. "Notes on expressive meaning." CLS 8.
Reprinted (with postscript) in E. Schiller, B. Need, D. Varley, &
W. Eilfort, eds., _The Best of CLS_ (Chicago: Chicago Linguistic
Society, 1988). (e-mail address for CLS is
Diffloth, Gerard. 1976. "Expressives in Semai." _Austroasiatic
Studies_, Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 13, University
of Hawaii Press.
Diffloth, Gerard. 1979. "Expressive phonology and prosaic phonology
of Mon-Khmer." _Studies in Tai and Mon-Khmer Phonetics and
Phonology in Honour of E. J. A. Henderson_ (Bangkok: Chulalongkorn
University Press).
Other work on expressives by students of Diffloth includes
Martha S. Ratliff's work on Hmong expressives, which appears in her
University of Chicago dissertation (ca. 1986?) and in at least one conference
paper, and Janis B. Nuckolls' work on Quechua expressives, which I believe
appears in her dissertation (University of Chicago, ca. 1990?) and may
also be written up elsewhere. (Sorry to be so vague about the references.
The departmental office is closed right now, the library's a long walk away
in the rain, and I'd like to send this message while it is still timely. If
you want more info, please e-mail me.) Ratliff is currently at Wayne
State University in Detroit, and she is on e-mail, though I can't find her
address (perhaps Alexis Manaster-Ramer has it). Nuckolls is at Indiana
University (though currently on leave and based at Emory), and I have
her e-mail address if anyone wants to contact her for additional references.
I hope this helps to bring this very important work to a wider audience!
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