‘To give an imagination to the listeners’: The neglected poetics of Navajo ideophony

Anthony K. Webster


Ideophony is a neglected aspect of investigations of world poetic traditions. This article looks at the use of ideophony in a variety of Navajo poetic genres. Examples are given from Navajo place-names, narratives, and songs. A final example involves the use of ideophony in contemporary written Navajo poetry. Using the work of Woodbury, Friedrich, and Becker it is argued that ideophones are an example of form-dependent expression, poetic indeterminacy, and the inherent exuberances and deficiencies of translation and thus strongly resists translation. This fact becomes more relevant when understood in light of the current language shift from Navajo to English.

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The official journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969 as one of the first scholarly journals in the field, Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in the field, and occasional guest editorials and reports. The journal also publishes occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest.