Redrawing the margins of language: Lessons from research on ideophones

Ideophones (also known as expressives or mimetics, and including onomatopoeia) have been systematically studied in linguistics since the 1850s, when they were first described as a lexical class of vivid sensory words in West-African languages. This paper surveys the research history of ideophones, from its roots in African linguistics to its fruits in general linguistics and typology around the globe. It shows that despite a recurrent narrative of marginalisation, work on ideophones has made an impact in many areas of linguistics, from theories of phonological features to typologies of manner and motion, and from sound symbolism to sensory language. Due to their hybrid nature as gradient vocal gestures that grow roots in discrete linguistic systems, ideophones provide opportunities to reframe typological questions, reconsider the role of language ideology in linguistic scholarship, and rethink the margins of language. With ideophones increasingly being brought into the fold of the language sciences, this review synthesises past theoretical insights and empirical findings in order to enable future work to build on them.
Publication type
Journal article
Publication date
2018

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