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Multimodal Communication

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Pow, Punch, Pika, and Chu: The Structure of Sound Effects in Genres of American Comics and Japanese Manga

Nimish K. Pratha / Natalie Avunjian / Neil Cohn
  • Corresponding author
  • Center for Research in Language, University of California at San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA
  • Tilburg Center for Cognition and Communication, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands
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Published Online: 2016-10-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mc-2016-0017


As multimodal works, comics are characterized as much by their use of language as by the style of their images. Sound effects in particular are exemplary of comics’ language-use, and we explored this facet of comics by analyzing a corpus of books from genres in the United States (mainstream and independent) and Japan (shonen/boys’ and shojo/girls’). We found variation between genres and between cultures across several properties of the content and presentation of sound effects. Foremost, significant differences arose between the lexical categories of sound effects (ex. onomatopoetic: Pow! vs. descriptive: Punch!) between genres within both culture’s works. Additionally, genres in Japanese manga vary in the scripts used to write sound effects in Japanese (hiragana vs. katakana). We argue that, in English, a similar function is communicated through the presence or absence of textual font stylization. Altogether, these aspects of variation mark sound effects as important carriers of multimodal information, and provide distinctions by which genres and cultures of comics can be distinguished.

Keywords: visual language; multimodality; onomatopoeia; comics; manga; Japanese


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About the article

Nimish K. Pratha

Nimish K. Pratha will receive a Bachelors of Science in Physiology and Neuroscience and a Bachelors of Arts in Linguistics at the University of California at San Diego. He is particularly interested in the Japanese language and manga, and as a fluent speaker of Japanese, has worked translating them into English for several years. His other interests include neurolinguistics, dance, and game design.

Natalie Avunjian

Natalie Avunjian holds a Bachelors of Science in Cognitive Science from the University of California at San Diego with a minor in Computer Science. She currently works as an engineer in the field of information technology, and holds interests in the visual and fine arts, web design, and music.

Neil Cohn

Neil Cohn is an assistant professor at the Tilburg center for Cognition and Communication at Tilburg University. He is internationally recognized for his research on the overlap of the structure and cognition of sequential images and language. His book, The Visual Language of Comics (Bloomsbury, 2013), introduces a broad framework for studying visual narratives in the linguistic and cognitive sciences. His edited volume, The Visual Narrative Reader (Bloomsbury, 2016), integrates interdisciplinary research on visual narratives into a unified field within the cognitive sciences. His work is online at www.visuallanguagelab.com.

Published Online: 2016-10-04

Published in Print: 2016-12-01

Citation Information: Multimodal Communication, Volume 5, Issue 2, Pages 93–109, ISSN (Online) 2230-6587, ISSN (Print) 2230-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/mc-2016-0017.

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