Words are truly fascinating. We’ve all known that without words people would not be able to communicate. And words are learned since childhood, from parents, siblings, friends then teachers, slowly building a lexicon that allows one to construct cohesive and intelligent sentences.
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And discovering new words, even foreign ones is a delight. It somehow bridges the communication gap, when new and foreign words are added to your personal dictionary, particularly since globalization makes the world shrink, figuratively speaking, just a little bit.
Even if you do not have the patience to learn a new language, or you do not have the propensity for languages, you would eventually come across words that give you a vivid impression of things akin to action, color, sound, and movement. These words are called ideophones. You might not be aware of the term, but you have surely used some of the words that belong to this category. Though rarely found in languages in the Western world, ideophones are quite common in several languages of the world. For specific clarification, the word class in which ideophones belong is called phonosemantic. It sounds a bit technical, especially for a layman who only uses words because they are there and universally known, without delving deeper into word classes, etymology and grammar rules.
Actually, being in the phonosemantic class means that ideophones do not belong to a grammatical word class but rather a lexical class, an open word class, which is a group of words that exist heedless of the number of words they contain or their endings. These are lexemes or word stocks such as jog, elephant, come in, put up with or raining cats and dogs. When you hear or see these words, you somehow imagine the state of being that each word freely conveys. These are content words, such as verbs, nouns, adverbs and adjectives, in contrast to closed classes or function words like pronouns, qualifiers, determiners, conjunctions, auxiliaries, expletives, prepositions, interrogatives and particles.
Ideophones are words that elicit or induce sensory circumstances, usually characterized by duplication of a word, giving off a sense of plurality. Oftentimes, the word imitates the sound of an event or happening that it is referring to. Officially, these are called onomatopoeic words. A good example is the verb to tinkle, which immediately gives you a sense of hearing a light, clear and high-pitched sound of a metal object, such as a small bell being struck lightly.
Some contend that ideophones are considered complete sentences, while others believe that these words could be integrated fully into sentences. Both are true since languages differ in how ideophones are used. Conversely, there are distinct linguistic occurrences that are called ideophones. Languages likewise differ in how ideophones are used in context. In some languages, ideophones are normally used in their spoken language but not in the written one, whereas in some Asian languages and in Ewe, a traditional Niger-Congo language that is spoken in southern Togo and southeastern Ghana, ideophones are used in both the written and spoken language. Generally speaking though, ideophones are more effectively used in oral speech due to the dramatic expressions or functions these types of words evoke.
Fun with ideophones
Across the globe, there are many ideophones that exist and used regularly in conversations among groups of people. Some are endemic to the place, while some span across cultures and are recognized and used widely by numerous peoples.
In the United States, some of the widely used words are bling bling, which translates to things that sparkle or glitter, usually signifying glamour and richness, but could also connote something that is ostentatious, flashy and gaudy. It means the same as the Hindi and Urdu word chamak chamak. Hippetyhop is usually used in children’s stories, to describe the characteristic manner of how a rabbit runs and hops. This one may not be a familiar word, badonkadonk but it means the largely voluptuous buttocks of a female. In Portuguese, the word bum-bum means the same thing as badonkadonk. The English word racket is an ideophone, meaning an annoyingly loud noise.
The Japanese says doki-doki, meaning heartbeat that indicates excitement. In the same token, Koreans say dugeun dugeun while the Tamil word, pada pada although meaning heartbeat, too, indicates anxiety instead. It would take several words to say that a glass object fell and broke or shattered into pieces in English. The Vietnamese on the other hand has an ideophone for it, loảng xoảng.
Niko niko means smile in Japanese and shiin means silence. Koreans mean that people are friendly and warm towards each other when you hear them say osondoson and they are describing how your eyes sparkle or how candles and stars shine or describing an alert mind when they say chorong chorong.
In Navajo language, dil dil means the sound made by a lot of people walking by while the sound made when sheep are sheared is said as k’az k’az.
Ideophones, while rare in most languages are quite common in the Japanese language. They use these special words to indicate smell, color, movement, feeling, sound and shape. And these words are fun to learn and easy to remember. It’s a great way to learn a few foreign words.
The Japanese word for dog is wan and the sound of a dog is wan wan in Japanese. These ideophonic words are easy to identify, as these are normally words that are said twice. When someone experiences a thrill or feels a frisson of excitement up one’s spine, the word to use is zoku zoku. Dara dara translates to feeling sluggish or the word to describe trickling water. The sensation of static electricity running on your skin when you wear a woolen sweater is called chiku chiku. ] The sound of something or an object being slammed down is called bachin bachin. Things that come in various colors is described as iro iro. Things that crackle or are crunchy when eaten makes a sound that the Japanese call bori bori. It would be good if you do not hear you being told that you are bera bera as this means non-stop chattering, although it could also mean flimsy and thin.
You could take it as a compliment when a Japanese tells you dan dan that translates to taking steps slowly but surely or just plain steps. When you are worried, feeling stiff or frozen and your teeth are chattering due to the cold, the ideophone to use is gachi gachi. Things sweet and sticky mean neba neba. Eating quickly on the other hand and the sound of your racing heart mean the same thing – baku baku. No problems? Everything’s going smoothly? The Japanese ideophone for this is sui sui and sowa sowa means the reverse, that is, it’s the feeling of being restless, fidgety or nervous.
If you are hopelessly in love and romantic feelings persist, you are rabu rabu. It is actually a corruption of the English word, love, which is called rabu in Japanese. When the dog barks, Japanese say wan wan, and if the cat meows, the term they use is nya nya, which is also what a cat is called in Japan.
Sad, heartbroken, distressed or stressed out and you feel a dull ache and the only way to express your emotions is by crying discretely? The Japanese ideophone for this feeling is shiku shiku.
You might have encountered several Japanese words, especially in consumables imported from Japan, such as snacks and candies that seem to make no sense or even sound funny. Before you laugh out loud and somehow think that they should hire someone to properly translate the word or words, it could be something that Japanese companies do on purpose. To them it is all right to use engrish intentionally, if it means a boost in the sale of their products in the international market. And waza waza is the ideophone used by the Japanese for this purpose.
Funny, isn’t it? Such a good way to convey something in a short, descriptive way
Photo Credit: Bling bling hip hop jewelry
Photo Credit: Bling bling hip hop jewelry