[Lingtyp] A "Swadesh List" of Ideophone semantic categories

Dingemanse, Mark Mark.Dingemanse at mpi.nl
Thu Mar 21 09:38:30 UTC 2019


Jeff mentions starting from expressive or affective functions. This is indeed a very useful if daunting approach, pioneered by Samarin in a 1970 study on Inventory and choice in expressive language. He covers intensifiers, swear words, affective and emotionally heightened discourse, phonetic play, prosody, echo-words, ideophones, magical speech and much more. He also touches on typological differences and alludes to possible ethnographical correlates. Some of the same themes were taken up by Jakobson & Waugh in The Sound Shape of Language (1979). It hasn't seen a wide following since, though there has been some important work in this vein since (e.g. Klamer 2002).

Unlike Jeff I don't really think of this as an alternative (let alone superior) approach; isn't it just the other side of the coin? Much like onomasiology and semasiology, these are complementary perspectives that should mutually inform each other. Samarin took both perspectives, incidentally: in the same wide-ranging piece he does note that "Elsewhere in the world ... we find similar classes of words. What is striking about them, as with African ideophonic words, is that (1) they display a great deal of play with sounds, that (2) they are predominantly reduplicative, that (3) their phonology is in some respects different from that of all other words, and finally, that (4) they have very specific meanings sometimes difficult to define" (Samarin 1970:160).

So even when you start from the perspective of cataloguing expressive and affective functions and studying how they are linguistically realised, you keep stumbling upon languages that bundle a recurring bunch of these functions into an open lexical classes of marked words depictive of sensory imagery. In my recent Glossa review<https://www.glossa-journal.org/articles/10.5334/gjgl.444/> I've tabulated some of the reported magnitudes of  ideophone inventories in unrelated languages. Published counts for Basque, Gbeya, Japanese, Korean, Turkish and Zulu all range into the thousands of items. Linguists working on these languages point to the fundamental cross-linguistic kinship between these lexical classes, drawing attention to similarities in phonology, semantics, morphosyntax, semiotics, expressiveness, and multimodal features. In short, this is a part of the typological possibility space that is not marginal or sparsely inhabited. I think it's useful to map out the larger space but also to pencil down a name for ease of reference. Hence 'ideophones'.

A word about Martin's earlier restrictive definition of a class of "obligatorily duplicated forms that can be used as adverbial". The biggest problem with it is that reduplication is not a necessary or sufficient property of ideophone systems. It is hard if not impossible to find a language in which all documented ideophones are reduplicated (Dingemanse 2015). Although published counts are rare, most ideophone inventorise seem to have substantial numbers of items that are not obligatorily duplicated: In Siwu, the proportion of reduplicated base forms is 59%; in Japanese, it is 35-40% at most (Akita 2009); in Somali, maybe only 7% (Dhoorre & Tosco 1998).

Perhaps this is not a problem and one could work with this kind of definition, accepting loss of coverage for gain in precision. You'd certainly get somewhere. I'm wondering whether this would be judged acceptable for other major word classes. What if our comparative definition of 'adjective' specified a formal feature that made it exclude up to 60% of lexical items considered adjectival in a bunch of well-described languages?

It would be possible to improve on this kind of definition by thinking of reduplication as only one of the multiple ways in which ideophones stand out from other words (I've used "marked" as a shorthand for this, well aware of Martin's justified critique of overuses of the term). Progress could be made by spelling out other ways in which ideophones stand out: deviant phonotactics, skewed feature distributions (monovocality, reduced/simplified tonal patterns), and a wider range of allowed syllable structures. People like Kimi Akita, Iraide Ibarretxe-Antuñano, Nahyun Kwon and others have been working towards this. I wonder what the best way would be to for a definition to capture and quantify this conjunction of known formal features correlating with ideophones. One fruitful approach might be a Corbett-style canonical typology, in the manner recently done for phonaesthemes by Kwon and Round (2014).

Refs cited:

Akita, Kimi. 2009. A Grammar of Sound-Symbolic Words in Japanese: Theoretical Approaches to Iconic and Lexical Properties of Japanese Mimetics. Kobe: Kobe University. (PhD dissertation.)

Dingemanse, Mark. 2015. Ideophones and reduplication: Depiction, description, and the interpretation of repeated talk in discourse. Studies in Language 39(4). 946–970. (doi:10.1075/sl.39.4.05din, PDF<https://pure.mpg.de/rest/items/item_2042952_6/component/file_2250312/content>)

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)

Dhoorre, Cabdulqaadir Salaad & Tosco, Mauro. 1998. 111 Somali Ideophones. Journal of African Cultural Studies 11(2). 125–156.

Jakobson, Roman & Waugh, Linda R. 1979. The Sound Shape of Language. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Klamer, Marian. 2002. Semantically Motivated Lexical Patterns: A Study of Dutch and Kambera Expressives. Language 78(2). 258–86.

Kwon, Nahyun & Round, Erich R. 2014. Phonaesthemes in morphological theory. Morphology 25(1). 1–27. (doi:10.1007/s11525-014-9250-z)

Samarin, William J. 1970. Inventory and choice in expressive language. Word 26. 153–169.

From: Heath Jeffrey <schweinehaxen at hotmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2019 11:37 PM
To: Dingemanse, Mark; lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Re: A "Swadesh List" of Ideophone semantic categories

An alternative superior to fuzzy "comparative concepts" is to start with well-defined functions rather than form classes. Consider the following phenomena, some of which have been lumped together as ideophones:

a) onomatopoieas (thud, thwap, cock-a-doodle-doo);
b) lexicalized forms denoting striking visual and other nonauditory sensory patterns, whether verbs or other stem-types (twinkle, glimmer, zigzag, cross-hatch; stench, putrid)
c) intensifiers for verbs or adjectives, e.g. brand new and stop in one's tracks, along with special (truncated or otherwise modified) forms of adjectives and verbs with similar effect;
d) extreme quantifiers, e.g. zero (zilch), a meager amount ([not even] a plug nickel), and 'all' (the whole enchilada)
e) loaded epithets, slurs
f) diminutives (and other hypocoristics), augmentatives
g) greetings
h) emphatic positive and negative polarity (yes I can, not on your life!, over my dead body)

All of these are "expressive" or "affective" in one way or another, but they are fundamentally distinct semantically and they do not usually coalesce into a single form class. Instead of starting by equating form classes in different languages as "ideophones" and then comparing their lexical inventories, how about starting with a comprehensive set of potentially "expressive" or "emphatic" functions and examining how they are realized in various languages?

For one thing, this would reveal that some languages/cultures are much more oriented toward expressivity overall or in specific contexts than others. For example, there are remarkable cross-linguistic differences in the extent to which diminutives and other hypocoristics are developed.  Western European languages (English, Dutch, Basque), some Arabic varieties, and west coast Amerindian languages are high on the list, Australian Aboriginal languages dead last. Likewise with greetings and other forms of conversation-starting "phatic communion" which are highly variable (West Africans are champions, Arabs pretty good, western Europeans mediocre, Australian Aboriginals again dead last). These are anthropologically profound issues that are rarely addressed by typologists.
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