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The Structure of Ideophones in African and Asian Languages: The Case of Dagaare and Cantonese
Adams Bodomo
203-213 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Words are the seeds of syntax, and word classes such as verbs and nouns project their peculiar grammatical features. An understanding of the grammatical structure of a language therefore subsumes an understanding of the various word classes in that language. Yet it is often challenging to neatly group all words of a language into classes. Ideophones typify such features of wordhood and lexicality in grammar (Voeltz and Kilian-Hatz 2001). Doke (1935:118) defines the term "ideophone" as "a vivid representation of an idea in sound. A word, often onomatopoeic, which describes a predicate, qualificative or adverb in respect to manner, colour, sound, smell, action, state or intensity." It is often regarded as a particular word class containing sound symbolic words (Voeltz and Kilian-Hatz 2001). Indeed, in many other languages of Africa and other parts of the world, ideophones are often treated as belonging to a specific word class (e.g., Bodomo (2000) for Dagaare and Kulemeka (1997) for Chichewa). However, there is considerable controversy as to whether they constitute a coherent class or are indeed distributed across many word classes (e.g., Newmann 1968, 2000). In this paper, these and other issues surrounding the notion of ideophones are addressed with data from some African and Asian languages, particularly Dagaare, a Gur language of West Africa and Cantonese, a Yue dialect of Chinese.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: African Languages and Linguistics in Broad Perspectives
edited by John Mugane, John P. Hutchison, and Dee A. Worman
Table of contents
Printed edition: $280.00