Onomatopoeic (imitative) words are words with iconic link between form and meaning (Moreno-Cabrera, 2020). They exhibit a considerable degree of structural similarity across languages while maintaining some language-specific traits (Hinton et al, 1994). Although modern European languages share a small portion of words traced down to the Proto-Indo-European imitative roots (Kozlova, 2015), the majority of modern onomatopoeic words were coined independently and relatively recently (Paul, 1891). Thus, European imitative words are, for the most part, not related, although typologically similar. The question I raise in the research is whether onomatopoeic words also exhibit similar patterns in their historical development.
The research focuses on the historical development of English, Icelandic, and Russian onomatopoeic words. The material for the research is a corpus selected by the method of continuous sampling from etymology dictionaries (OED, Vasmer (2009), de Vries (1962)). The total of analysed lexemes exceeds 2000.
Methodology includes the comparative-historical method, the methods of etymological, semantic, phonosemantic analysis, and typological comparison. It also includes the method of diachronic evaluation of the imitative lexicon (Flaksman, 2017).
The theoretical framework for the research is the works on language iconicity (Anderson (1998), Jakobson and Waugh (1979), Malkiel (1991), Marchand (1959), Liberman (2010), Voronin (2005), Wescott (1980) etc.) and works on historical-comparative linguistics and etymology (Hock (1991), Trask (1996), Durkin (2009), Bybee (2015) etc.).
We proceed from the hypothesis (Flaksman, 2017) that every imitative word goes through four de-iconization stages (SDs) in its development. Form and meaning of imitative words resemble each other most at the moment of word’s coinage (E. moo, baa, mwah, pow, ka-boom) (SD-1). Then they undergo the process of lexicalization (E. bleat, buzz, chirk) (SD-2). Afterwards, imitative words either undergo regular sound changes (SD-3a, E. laugh /la:f/ < OE hlahhan) or considerable semantic shifts (SD-3b, English bib ‘a cloth placed under a child's chin’ from ME bibben ‘to drink’, imitative of lip sounds). Finally, when an imitative word has undergone both form and meaning changes it reaches the SD-4 and becomes completely non-iconic (E. mot /məʊ/, ‘a witty saying’, originally from Latin muttīre ‘to murmur’).
The research results suggest that Icelandic and Russian onomatopoeic words undergo the same de-iconization stages as the English ones:
SD-1 – bja [b̥ja:] ‘fie!’;
SD-2 – gagga [g̊ag̊:a] ‘to bark’;
SD-3a – ýla [i:la] ‘to howl’ (i:<y:<*u sound change);
SD-3b – kráka [khrau:kha] ‘crow’;
SD-1 – гав-гав [gav gaf] ‘bow-wow’;
SD-2 – пищать [pʲɪˈɕːætʲ] ‘to chirp’;
SD-3b – суслик [ˈsuslʲɪk] ‘ground squirrel’ (from Old Church Slavonic сысати ‘to hiss’);
SD-4 – пижон [pʲɪˈʐon] ‘fop’ (from French pigeon from Latin pīpiāre ‘to cheep’).
During the talk the following questions will be discussed: Are there any language-specific traits of historical development of imitative words? What is the share of onomatopoeic words on each de-iconization stage in English, Icelandic, and Russian? Do de-iconization tempos differ in these languages?
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