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An embodied semantic analysis of psychological mimetics in Japanese

Kimi Akita1

1Kobe University

Correspondence address: Department of Language and Information Sciences, the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 3-8-1, Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 153-8902, Japan. E-mail:

Citation Information: Linguistics. Volume 48, Issue 6, Pages 1195–1220, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.2010.039, November 2010

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This paper claims that psychological sound-symbolic words (or psych-mimetics; e.g., kat (to) ‘angry’, wakuwaku ‘exhilarated’) in Japanese and predicates they form have embodied semantic characteristics. Previous studies have assumed that psych-mimetics form one category. However, the possibility of cooccurrence with locus NPs enables a clear distinction among them. Psych-mimetics that optionally take a locus NP (termed “somatopsych-mimetics”) refer to bodily sensation and those that cannot take one (termed “visuopsych-mimetics”) refer to observable activity or behavior in addition to emotion. Several sorts of reinforcement are given to this dichotomy. First, not a few somato- and visuopsych-mimetics can be synchronically or diachronically analyzed as being derived from mimetics for bodily sensation and mimetics of vision, respectively. Second, some morphosyntactic properties of mimetic psych-verbs, including their morphology and participation in two controllability-related constructions, support the distinctive statuses of somato- and visuopsych-mimetics. Third, an experiment asking Japanese speakers to draw pictures for psych-mimetics provided further evidence for the visual basis of visuopsych-mimetics. Thus, like other psychological/perceptual expressions, psych-mimetics represent emotion by referring to particular physical experiences associated with or similar to it. Consequently, this study is dually significant. It contributes to the embodiment theory and points out the regularity of this apparently peculiar word class.

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