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Ideophone Integration and Expressiveness in Wao Terero


Ideophones, which “simulate an event, an emotion, a perception through language,” have been claimed to be a universal category (Voeltz & Kilian-Hatz 2001:3); however, they are generally understudied and are often considered marginal to the linguistic system. Focusing on their markedness, studies of ideophones often ignore how ideophones participate in the larger grammar of a language. Recognizing the often marked, expressive nature of ideophones in comparison with other word classes in a language, while also accounting for the fact that they can operate within the larger grammatical structure of that language, Dingemanse’s (2017) integration-expressiveness continuum bridges this gap. This model illuminates the place of ideophones in Wao Terero, a language isolate spoken in the Amazonian region of Ecuador: how the word class is treated, with specific reference to morphosyntactic integration and expressiveness.

Wao Terero exhibits ideophones that constitute their own intonation unit, are reduplicated, occur at a clause boundary, modify verbs, co-occur with light verbs such as ‘do’ or ‘say’, co-occur with verbs that are seemingly synonymous with the ideophone creating complex predicates, and take verbal morphology. These different types of constructions in which ideophones can occur show how they participate in the larger grammatical structure of Wao Terero—namely that they can span the integration-expressiveness continuum with instances of ideophones that are syntactically free, highly morphosyntactically integrated, and everywhere in between. While the continuum implies a proportional inverse relationship between integration and expressiveness, the scalar nature of the prosodic features—such as length, pitch, intensity, and voice quality—that contribute to an ideophone’s expressiveness leads to complications in the application of the continuum to all Wao Terero data. Despite the individual examples that challenge its validity, the continuum appears to account for the majority of the Wao Terero data analyzed. Furthermore, beyond explaining the nature of the data synchronically, the continuum is also shown to be useful in terms of diachrony by exploring probable grammaticalization pathways.

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