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Kimi Akita and Mark Dingemanse

Ideophones, also termed mimetics or expressives, are marked words that depict sensory imagery. They are found in many of the world’s languages, and sizable lexical classes of ideophones are particularly well-documented in the languages of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Ideophones are not limited to onomatopoeia like meow and smack but cover a wide range of sensory domains, such as manner of motion (e.g., plisti plasta ‘splish-splash’ in Basque), texture (e.g., tsaklii ‘rough’ in Ewe), and psychological states (e.g., wakuwaku ‘excited’ in Japanese). Across languages, ideophones stand out as marked words due to special phonotactics, expressive morphology including certain types of reduplication, and relative syntactic independence, in addition to production features like prosodic foregrounding and common co-occurrence with iconic gestures. Three intertwined issues have been repeatedly debated in the century-long literature on ideophones. (a) Definition: Isolated descriptive traditions and cross-linguistic variation have sometimes obscured a typologically unified view of ideophones, but recent advances show the promise of a prototype definition of ideophones as conventionalized depictions in speech, with room for language-specific nuances. (b) Integration: The variable integration of ideophones across linguistic levels reveals an interaction between expressiveness and grammatical integration, and has important implications for how to conceive of dependencies between linguistic systems. (c) Iconicity: Ideophones form a natural laboratory for the study of iconic form-meaning associations in natural languages, and converging evidence from corpus and experimental studies suggests important developmental, evolutionary, and communicative advantages of ideophones.


The function of the voice organ is basically the same in classical singing as in speech. However, loud orchestral accompaniment has necessitated the use of the voice in an economical way. As a consequence, the vowel sounds tend to deviate considerably from those in speech. Male voices cluster formant three, four, and five, so that a marked peak is produced in spectrum envelope near 3,000 Hz. This helps them to get heard through a loud orchestral accompaniment. They seem to achieve this effect by widening the lower pharynx, which makes the vowels more centralized than in speech. Singers often sing at fundamental frequencies higher than the normal first formant frequency of the vowel in the lyrics. In such cases they raise the first formant frequency so that it gets somewhat higher than the fundamental frequency. This is achieved by reducing the degree of vocal tract constriction or by widening the lip and jaw openings, constricting the vocal tract in the pharyngeal end and widening it in the mouth. These deviations from speech cause difficulties in vowel identification, particularly at high fundamental frequencies. Actually, vowel identification is almost impossible above 700 Hz (pitch F5). Another great difference between vocal sound produced in speech and the classical singing tradition concerns female voices, which need to reduce the timbral differences between voice registers. Females normally speak in modal or chest register, and the transition to falsetto tends to happen somewhere above 350 Hz. The great timbral differences between these registers are avoided by establishing control over the register function, that is, over the vocal fold vibration characteristics, so that seamless transitions are achieved. In many other respects, there are more or less close similarities between speech and singing. Thus, marking phrase structure, emphasizing important events, and emotional coloring are common principles, which may make vocal artists deviate considerably from the score’s nominal description of fundamental frequency and syllable duration.