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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. Pratha1 / Natalie Avunjian1 / 12

1Center for Research in Language, University of California at San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA

2Tilburg Center for Cognition and Communication, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands

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, October 2016

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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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