Expressive phonology. Is cool. I am trying to understand a little bit more about ideophones today. I’m not completely sure how far this understanding has progressed, but I am certainly charmed.
Ideophones are words that ‘evoke a vivid impression of certain sensations or sensory perceptions, e.g. sound, movement, color, shape, or action.’ They can be nouns, adjectives, adverbs or verbs. They are kind of mimetic. Of a sensory experience. Or something.
Onomatopoeic words are ideophones, for example, because ‘they imitate the sound of the event that they refer to.’ Then there are ideophones that (kind of) seem onomatopoeic but are not, like the English verb ‘[to] tinkle,’ which is associated with a metallic sound, or the word ‘gong’ which refers to an instrument that (kind of) makes that sound when you strike it.
Examples, speculative examples and thoughts . . . or questions, rather.
‘Badonkadonk’ is a large, voluptuous female buttocks in English, apparently. In Portuguese, a person’s buttocks is bum-bum. The Yolŋu-matha word for bottom or buttocks is dhuḏi. These are all ideophones I think, though how or why is hard to say. Do they sound like the experience of watching a person’s bottom? One of the wiki-examples given is ‘hippetyhop’ as in ‘the rabbit goes hippetyhop.’ How might one describe the relationship between the sound of this word and the event it refers to, though? Our house-guest offered rangichangi as an example – the Nepali word for ‘colourful.’ Also mentioned was farfalla, which is the Italian word for butterfly.
Some speculative examples from Yolŋu-matha include things like ḏukṯuk (‘[to] love, want, desire’), which sounds like a heartbeat – or gitkit (‘laughter’) and gitkitthun (‘[to] laugh’). Then there are words like djuḏum (‘mud’), which evokes the sensation or experience of pulling one’s feet out of mud as one walks . . . but is this an ideophone? I’m not sure. It would seem to be quite subjective. What if, for example, djuḏum evokes the sensation or experience of pulling one’s feet out of the mud for me but not for others? Similarly, the verb gakthun (‘[to] vomit, spew, puke’) seems like an ideophone to me, but is it? Can we say definitively? Perhaps one need hear these words uttered to experience the relationship between the sound of the word and (one’s own experience of) whatever it is that they are referring to. I’m not sure. And what about languages that are ‘more phonetic’ than others, are they likely to have more ideophones? I don’t know. So many questions (she says as she falls further down the rabbit-hole of I don’t nose). Maybe I should download a linguistics paper or something.