Determining the meaning of ideophones: folk definitions

Is is true that meanings are not readily assigned to ideophones? A study of folk definitions1 of Siwu ideophones shows that speakers converge on ways of explaining them, sketching scenes and using gesture and verbal paraphrase to capture the depictive meanings of ideophones.

(The folk definitions task used here is also available for download from the L&C Field Manuals website.)

Video clips

Figure 9.1. Depictions of gìlìgìlì 'circular' and minimini 'spherical'

Figure 9.1. Depictions of gìlìgìlì 'circular' and minimini 'spherical'

9.1
Folk definition of ɣààà 'water gushing' by Ruben
9.2
Folk definition of pɛtɛpɛtɛ 'thin-fragile' by Foster
9.3
Folk definition of pɔkɔsɔɔ 'quiet' by Beatrice
9.4
Folk definition of gbògbòrò 'tough' by Ella
9.5
Folk definition of miɔmiɔ 'pointy' by Ruben
9.6
Folk definition of kpoo 'silent' by Ella
9.7
Folk definition of gìlìgìlì 'circular' by Beatrice
(The second speaker in this extract is a family member of Beatrice)
9.8
Folk definition of minimini 'spherical' by Beatrice
(The second speaker in this extract is a family member of Beatrice)
9.9
Folk definition of bɔgɔbɔgɔ 'flexible' by Ruben

Comparing two ideophones for roundness

Four folk definitions of gìlìgìlì

1
Folk definition of gìlìgìlì by Ruben
2
Folk definition of gìlìgìlì by Beatrice
(The second speaker in this extract is a family member of Beatrice)
3
Folk definition of gìlìgìlì by Ella
4
Folk definition of gìlìgìlì by Foster

Four folk definitions of minimini

1
Folk definition of minimini by Ruben
2
Folk definition of minimini by Beatrice
(The second speaker in this extract is a family member of Beatrice)
3
Folk definition of minimini by Ella
4
Folk definition of minimini by Foster

From the thesis:

What can [depictive] gestures tell us about the meanings of ideophones? Let us take the case of gìlìgìlì vs. minimini. The difference between these ideophones turns out to be hard to articulate in Siwu; both seem to be about some kind of roundness. However, looking at the gestures accompanying the folk definitions, a clear distinction emerges. While explaining gìlìgìlì, all four speakers draw a circle with their index finger. In contrast, while explaining minimini, all four speakers produce a two-handed gesture depicting a sphere. We see thus that the gesture reliably changes with the word form, suggesting that gìlìgìlì should be glossed as ‘circular (round 2D)’ and minimini as ‘spherical (round 3D)’.

Comparing lɛkɛrɛɛ and lukuruu

1
Folk definition of lɛkɛrɛɛ by Ruben
2
Folk definition of lukuruu by Ruben
  1. Folk definitions are explanations by native speakers in the language under study. In this study of folk definitions of Siwu ideophones, I asked four native speakers of Siwu to explain ideophones in Siwu, and I videotaped their explanations. []