Expressiveness and system integration: On the typology of ideophones, with special reference to Siwu

  • 1 Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, PO Box 310, 6500 AH, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Mark Dingemanse
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  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, PO Box 310, 6500 AH, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
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Abstract

Ideophones are often described as words that are highly expressive and morphosyntactically marginal. A study of ideophones in everyday conversations in Siwu (Kwa, eastern Ghana) reveals a landscape of variation and change that sheds light on some larger questions in the morphosyntactic typology of ideophones. This article documents a trade-off between expressiveness and morphosyntactic integration, with high expressiveness linked to low integration and vice versa. It also describes a pathway for deideophonization and finds that frequency of use influences the degree to which ideophones can come to be more like ordinary words. The findings have implications for processes of (de)ideophonization, ideophone borrowing, and ideophone typology. A key point is that the internal diversity we find in naturally occurring data, far from being mere noise, is patterned variation that can help us to get a handle on the factors shaping ideophone systems within and across languages.

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