We are happy to announce a talk by Kat Barnes (GU Frankfurt) in the Semantics Colloquium.

The talk will take place on campus in IG 4.301.

Title: Subjectivity in iconicity: Ideophones and predicates of personal taste

Date: April 28

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct


The perception of iconicity appears to be influenced by multiple factors including social and cultural conventions (cf. Dingemanse 2011), language experience (cf. Occhino et al. 2017; Sehyr & Emmorey 2019), and mostly notably speaker judgement. Kawahara (2020) noted the subjective nature of ideophones in Japanese and this also appears to be the case in German, where contradicting an ideophone appears to result in faultless disagreement as in (1).

(1) a. Peter läuft die Treppe holterdiepolter herunter.

          Peter runs the stairs IDEO down

          ‚Peter is running helterskelter down the stairs.‘

    b. Naja, er läuft die Treppe nicht holterdiepolter herunter. Er läuft sie eher rumpeldipumpel runter.

        INT he runs the stairs not IDEO down he runs them rather IDEO down

        ‚Um, he’s not really running helterskelter down the stairs. He’s going down more head over heels.‘

Here, I present an account for the apparent subjective nature of ideophones where the iconic mapping of an ideophone to the depicted event is partially dependent on the speaker’s judgement of iconicity, which is modelled using a judge parameter per Lasersohn (2005). This analysis is, however, in need of further development and refinement, as there appear to be limits to ideophones’ subjectivity. In contrast to predicates of personal taste such as fun or tasty, the felicitous use of an ideophone appears to also be dependent on certain standards. For example, for the German ideophones holterdiepolter or rumpeldipumpel, a certain amount of noise and chaotic movement would need to be present in the reported event to felicitously use either ideophone, while the choice of exactly which of the ideophones to use would depend on the judge’s perception of which ideophone best iconically maps to the event.