The aim of this project is to investigate the performative qualities of ideophones, a category of expressions which are central to many linguists’ debates about the nature of language as a system. Ideophones are words that are sound symbolic, meaning the sounds of the words reflect their meaning. They are most similar to onomatopoeias in English, but in Ecuadorian Pastaza Quichua they act differently and play a much more significant role in the language. They play a specific syntactic role and are often performatively emphasized in order to depict an image of an experience for the audience.
Ideophones are linguistically interesting because they challenge one of the basic assumptions of linguistic science, namely that the sign symbol of words is arbitrary. Understanding how ideophones work thus contributes to fundamental knowledge about the diverse ways in which languages are used to communicate.
Specifically, I am interested in gathering data from consultants to measure the performative qualities of ideophone usage. These features have been described qualitatively and impressionistically in previous research by Dr. Janis Nuckolls (1996, 2004, 2006, 2010). I would like to seek empirical evidence for her work using acoustic analysis of sound spectrographic imagery. This work continues my research begun during Spring and Summer terms in 2011 while on BYU's Ecuador Study Abroad Program.
I will be using the linguistic software system Praat, used by many phoneticians, in order to analyze prosodic features of ideophones as used in personal narratives, casual conversation and traditional stories. I'm looking to provide evidence of the performative features described in Dr. Nuckolls' book Sounds Like Life (1996). These features include pitch change (in comparison to other parts of speech), intonation, and lengthening that sets them apart from the rest of an utterance. Nuckolls has argued (2010) that the way Quechua speakers consciously manipulate ideophones in order to simulate experiences for the listener moves these background characteristics to the foreground of their language usage.
I'm still working on how to describe this project as well as the methods I will use to collect and interpret data; largely I will be conducting interviews and trying to participate in regular conversation as well. My knowledge of Praat has increased greatly in the last few months thanks to a linguistic internship I'm working on with English News Broadcasts, and I think that my experience with it will transfer to a better ability to analyze Quichua speech as well.
Questions? I've been working with this idea for a while so it seems clear to me, but I would love to hear feedback and work on describing it more clearly while I'm working on my own questions in relation to the project as well.