Tid: Torsdag 27 mars, kl. 15:00–17:00
Plats: C307, Södra huset, Frescati

Postseminarium äger rum direkt efter seminariet i institutionens pentry.

Linguistics has always had its favourite topoi and its marginalia. In this talk I discuss two strands of research that for many linguists fall in the latter rubric: ideophones and interjections. Predictably, I will argue that these are interesting nonetheless. More to the point, I will argue (with Joseph 1997) that what one sees as center and periphery depends crucially on one’s view of language — and that what looks marginal at first sight may turn out to be more important than imagined.

Ideophones are words like sinisinisini ‘closely woven’ and saaa ‘cool sensation’ in Siwu, a language of Ghana, or gorogoro ‘rolling’ and pikapika ‘shiny’ in Japanese (Dingemanse 2012). Most of the world’s languages feature colourful words like this, sometimes numbering well into the thousands. Ideophones are the kind of major linguistic device that is in danger of being overlooked if we keep focusing on the very thin slice of linguistic diversity exhibited by Standard Average European languages. What do they tell us about the relation between language and perception? Speech and gesture? Arbitrariness and iconicity?

An old linguistic adagium has it that ‘language begins where interjections end’, but I argue that some interjections are absolutely central to our linguistic competence. Case in point: the seemingly trivial word ‘huh?’ — used when, for example, you didn’t quite catch was was said. In a major cross-linguistic study of conversational structure, we find that this word is strikingly similar in form and function across unrelated languages. We propose that this is a case of convergent cultural evolution: the word is shaped by selective pressures that are the same in conversations everywhere. To grasp this, we need to understand the importance of everyday social interaction as the primordial context of language use.

Both ideophones and interjections can be challenging to investigate:
ideophones because they are unfamiliar, hard to elicit, with intimidatingly rich sensory meanings; and interjections like ‘huh?’
because they are not generally found inside our beloved sentences but rather at higher levels of conversational structure. These challenges are best seen as opportunities: they disturb the comfort of well-worn views, raise new questions and invite us to have a fresh look at language in all of its aspects.

Dingemanse, Mark. 2012. “Advances in the cross-linguistic study of ideophones.” Language and Linguistics Compass 6 (10): 654–672. doi:10.1002/lnc3.361.

Dingemanse, Mark, Francisco Torreira, and N.J. Enfield. 2013. “Is ‘Huh?’ a universal word? Conversational infrastructure and the convergent evolution of linguistic items.” PLOS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078273.

Joseph, Brian D. 1997. “On the linguistics of marginality: The centrality of the periphery.” Chicago Linguistic Society 33: 197–213.

Läs mer om: Dr. Mark Dingemanse, Language & Cognition Department
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Ljuba Veselinova