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Making new ideophones in Siwu: Creative depiction in conversation

Dingemanse, M. (2014). Making new ideophones in Siwu: Creative depiction in conversation. Pragmatics and Society, 5(3), 384-405. doi:10.1075/ps.5.3.04din.
Ideophones are found in many of the world’s languages. Though they are a major word class on a par with nouns and verbs, their origins are ill-understood, and the question of ideophone creation has been a source of controversy. This paper studies ideophone creation in naturally occurring speech. New, unconventionalised ideophones are identified using native speaker judgements, and are studied in context to understand the rules and regularities underlying their production and interpretation. People produce and interpret new ideophones with the help of the semiotic infrastructure that underlies the use of existing ideophones: foregrounding frames certain stretches of speech as depictive enactments of sensory imagery, and various types of iconicity link forms and meanings. As with any creative use of linguistic resources, context and common ground also play an important role in supporting rapid ‘good enough’ interpretations of new material. The making of new ideophones is a special case of a more general phenomenon of creative depiction: the art of presenting verbal material in such a way that the interlocutor recognises and interprets it as a depiction.
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