Onomatopoeic Words

Onomatopoeic Words


words whose sound is partially determined by their meaning. There are two types. Sound-imitative words use sounds that acoustically resemble the designated phenomenon (Russian bul’-bul “gurgle,” and ku-ku, “cuckoo”; Ossetic t’aepp, “bang”; and Kanuri ndim-dim for a hollow, resonant noise).

Sound-forming (ideophonic) words create an image of the form of the objects, their movement, location in space, and other qualities, based on associations between the sounds and nonaural phenomena (movement, form). For example, in the Nilotic language Lango, bim-bim means “very, very fat”; a flash of distant lightning in Chuvash is ialt-ialt; and buru-buru is Japanese for “vibration.” The Ewe language (Africa) has words describing gait: bafo-bafo, for the walk of a lively short person, boho-boho for the walk of a stout, heavily treading person, and wudo-wudo for a casual walk.

There are many onomatopoeic words in such agglutinative and root-isolating languages as Korean and the Altaic and African languages and also in Japanese and the Iranian languages. There are also morphologically formed words that are derived from onomatopoeic words—such words with word-imitative and ideophonic roots as the Russian bul’kat’, “to gurgle,” and Turkish verbs ending in -da.


Polivanov, E.D. “Po povodu ‘zvukovykh zhestov’ iaponskogo iazyka.” In his book Stat’i po obshchemu iazykoznaniiu. Moscow, 1968.
Gazov-Ginzberg, A.M. Byl li iazyk izobrazitelen v svoikh istokakh? Moscow, 1965.
Zhurkovskii, B.V. Ideofony: sopostavitel’nyi analiz (Na materiale nekotorykh iazykov Afriki i Evrazii). Moscow, 1968.
Shagdarov, L. Sh. Izobrazitel’nye slova v sovremennom buriatskom iazyke. Ulan-Ude, 1962. Samarin, W.J. “Perspectives on African Ideophones.” African Studies, 1965, vol. 24.
Thun, N. Reduplicative Words in English. Uppsala, 1963.


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