Excerpts and Comments on “Semantic Universals..” -3

This is some notes on the Chapter 2 : Areal Typology of Expressives, Echo-formations and Word reduplication. from the book “Semantic Universals in Indian Languages” by Anvita Abbi. All previous articles in this series can be seen here.


Some terminology:

* “Reduplication” is a phenomenon in which all or part of a word repeats to form another word (e.g., ఇంటింటి, घर घर etc.,). This reduplication is of two types: Lexical Reduplication and Morphological Reduplication.

Lexical Redup. is when whole words repeat themselves, as in the above example. Morphological Reduplication is when parts of words repeat and the individual parts don’t have an independent meaning (e.g., चाचा). This chapter primarily discusses different kinds of reduplication, broadly classified in to “expressives”, “echo words”, “semantic reduplication”

* Expressives: Under the umbrella of reduplication, there are certain kind of reduplicated words which are formed by repeating syllables that constitute a word instead of words itself. Now, this entire reduplicated word functions as a word. These are called “Expressives” in linguistics. (Atleast this is how I understood it).

A definition of “expressives” from the Encyclopaedia Britannica is as follows:

“Expressive language and wordplay are embodied in a special word class called “expressives.” This is a basic class of words distinct from verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in that they cannot be subjected to logical negation. They describe noises, colours, light patterns, shapes, movements, sensations, emotions, and aesthetic feelings.”

(In the article on Austro-Asiatic languages)

* Echo-words: These are words like – చలి-గిలి, టీవీ-గీవీ, इंग्लिश-विंग्लिश etc.,

* Word-reduplication : These are the ఇంటింటి, घर घर etc., kind of words.

Now in to detail:


* “the most significant aspect of Indian expressives is that they indicate five senses of perception of Indian speakers. Secondly, the expressives behave and function like any regular word and thus form a part of the lexicons of Indian languages.”

The author gave numerous examples of expressives that cover five senses .. and in multiple Indian languages. I would probably write one example each, in Telugu if possible or give author’s Hindi example if a Telugu one does not occur to me.

1. Acoustic noises: కావ్ కావ్ మని అరవడం, కిలకిలమని నవ్వడం, ఘల్లు ఘల్లుమని గజ్జెల చప్పుడు, टप टप etc.,
2. Sense of sight: జిగేల్ జిగేల్మని మెరవడం, चम चम.
3. Sense of touch: perhaps, వేడివేడిగా qualifies here (author’s examples were from Nepali and Methei).
4. Sense of smell: ఘుమఘుమ వాసనలు
5. Sense of taste: चिरपिरा, चटपटा (I thought of కరకరా… and realized it comes under sound and not taste)

“Another feature which makes the South Asian languages distinct from other languages is the use of expressives as manner adverbs. This use gives Indian speaker the linguistic facility in bringing out very minute and subtle distinctions in a performance of an action which may go unnoticed or unexpressed in non-Indian culture. .. It should be noted that learning these languages implies learning of these expressives as a sentence without a definite manner adverb is considered incomplete. The knowledge of expressives thus constitute an integral part of language competence.”

And there were these amazing array of walking style examples from Khasi language..where different sounds indicate different walking styles. Few examples:
don don – toddle like a child
mareh thrait thrait – to run without losing hope or vigor
kniah kniah – walking mincingly

An equivalent example in Telugu could be the laughs – కిల కిలా, పక పకా etc.,

Another interesting tidbit: “Nepali excels in expressing various types of confusion and disorderliness by expressives. At least 15 different expressives to represent disorderliness have been noticed by the author”

It was in this context that I read “పుటుక్కు జరజర…” puzzle in new light.

Another research tidbit: Emeneau (1969) showed that there were at least 39 sound-meaning correspondences of Onomatopoetic across Dravidian and Indo-Aryan languages. (Here is a nice interview with him in Telugu)

Onomatopoeia – indicates a sound-meaning correspondence. Like – కావ్ కావ్, కర కరా, భౌ భౌ, काव काव etc., In general linguists say that these formations are not dependent on the rules of the language. But in his book, also based on Emeneau’s work, the author argues that it can also be an areal feature (feature of a linguistic area).

Here is a summary of this part on expressives:
“Indian expressives manifest feelings, sensations, perceptions pertaining to five senses, manner of an action and disorderliness. All these relate to the ability of PERCEPTION of the speaker in a cultural environment. The ‘world view’ and its manifestation in expressive morphology is a typical feature of Indian linguistic area’.

(to be continued)


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23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Another interesting post Sowmya. Thanks for sharing what you are reading. Words like paka pakaa, ghuma ghumaa etc. fascinated me and of course I made an activity for kids. It is among the many interactive (html) pages that I am yet to upload to wordpress site. My younger son loves sounds and sound effects and I had lot of fun with him while making that activity. There was an interesting book I was directed to by JK Mohana Rao garu in rachahabanda group discussion on the subject. Here is the link to that thread: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/racchabanda/message/17131
    He sent the file in e-mail It has DJVU extension and I am not able to open it now.
    I have to read this particular post one more time with focus on the post than on my reaction.

    • What is that book? May be I can convert it to pdf. My reader reads djvu too anyway. 🙂

  2. […] from yesterday’s post, on the same chapter. This is some notes on the Chapter 2 : Areal Typology of Expressives, […]

  3. Expressives as manner adverbs.
    కొరకొరా చూడ్డం
    గబగబా నడవడం
    చకచకా చెయ్యడం
    గుసగుసగా మాట్లాడ్డం

    Touch – చిమచిమ, జిల్‌జిల్?

    Does the definition of Expressives allow Lexical reduplication? (if not వేడివేడిగా doesn’t qualify)
    Are all Morphological Reduplications Onomatopoetic?

  4. >> Are all Morphological Reduplications Onomatopoetic?
    – I think that is not the case. వేడివేడిగా – is not Onomatopoetic right?

    Also, thinking about it, I wonder if వేడివేడిగా qualifies as an expressive at all. I think words like – చురుక్కుమను, సుయ్యి సుయ్యిమని will become expressives (without reduplication).

  5. >>వేడివేడిగా – is not Onomatopoetic right?
    It is not a Morphological reduplication, but a Lexical one right? That’s the reason why I asked if Expressives are only Morphological reduplications or can they be Lexical also.

    I am not sure if కొరకొరా and చకచకా are considered Onomatopoetic or not.

    • Yes, వేడివేడిగా – is lexical redup. from what I understood. But, is it expressive? I wonder if it is. Hmm, reg expressives being Morph or lexical redups – I think I have to read the part again now!Atleast for now, it appears like expressives are only morphological reduplications.

      Reg the others: Just checked the Telugu dictionary of Onomatopoeic words – ధ్వన్యనుకరణ పదకోశం : కొరకొర, చకచక are onomatopoeic. వేడివేడిగా is not.

  6. >>కొరకొర, చకచక are onomatopoeic.
    So all the examples of morphological redups that I can think of are Onomatopoetic.

    • >>So all the examples of morphological redups that I can think of are Onomatopoetic.
      – I think we can conclude that from what I understood atleast. But all Onomatopoetic words are not necessarily morphological redups. 🙂

    • Update to the previous comment:
      >>>>So all the examples of morphological redups that I can think of are Onomatopoetic.
      – I can’t think of any example in Telugu. But, here is a morphological redup. example from (http://wals.info/chapter/27), that is not onomatopoetic.
      amigo (‘friend’) – amimígo (‘friends’); báley (Town)- balbáley(Towns) From Pangasinan language : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangasinan_language

    • Update again:
      >>>>So all the examples of morphological redups that I can think of are Onomatopoetic.
      – I was trying to understand the difference between an Ideophone and Onomatopoetic word. From the wiki pages, it appears like – Ideophone – the sound evokes some meaning/imagery. Onomatopoetic – the sound is the word.

      కావ్-కావ్ :is onomotopoetic but జిగేల్ జిగేల్మని మెరవడం – is ideaphone. Right? If that is so, Morphological redup. need not always be Onomatopoetic. It can be ideophonic. However, since I just started… I think I will keep writing such updated comments as time goes by!!

  7. I found this interesting website just now: http://reduplication.uni-graz.at/

  8. Interesting! We do have similar words in Telugu like – లోలోపల, లేలేత, నానాడు. But I don’t think they are considered as morphological redups, but lexical – with rules of Sandhi that change the form of the first word. I guess something similar happens in the examples you mentioned from other languages too, but may be they don’t see it that way!

    Of course, none of these examples are Expressives.

    • I don’t know about those languages but, like you said, it could be another form of Sandhi.

      Anyway… what do you say about Onomatopoeia vs Ideophone example? Can we think that Morphological Redups. need not be Onomatopoeia always even in Telugu? (Ideophones seem to be the super set which also include Onomatopoetics.. from what I understood through the wiki pages)


  9. I felt that the definition of Ideophone is very similar to that of an Expressive. So I did a quick googling on both the terms. Some say they are indeed the same (links below)! So my question can be reformulated as:
    Are all morphological redups (at least in Telugu, and may be in other Indian languages too), Expressives/Ideophones?



    • Yes, ideophone and expressive seemed similar to me too. Thanks for the links.

      From the book by Anvita Abbi, I understood that morphological redup. happens only for expressives. So, from what I understood, the answer for your latest question is a YES.

      For the previous question: Morph. Redup. happens with Onomatopoetics but not Onamatopoetics alone. 🙂

  10. So my next question is 🙂
    Morphological redups are a subclass of Expressives. Expressives are a broader category that cover non-redups too. For example “పుటుక్కు” is an expressive which is not a redup.
    Is my understanding correct?
    Here is an interesting link. It might confuse us more about the definitions, but has got a good collection of redups from Tamil and Telugu: http://www.languageinindia.com/aug2009/parimalathesis.pdf

    • Yes, your understanding is correct (from my understanding) 🙂 Expressives are a broader category which need not always be with duplication.

      Thanks for the link. I saw that in the search results yesterday but did not venture to read, looking at its length :p

  11. Isn’t there a PhD thesis at some American university on this morphological reduplications and Onomatopoetic words in Telugu? Is it from Yale? Actuallly I should know. How to tag Prof. VNR and Suresh here? — Sreenivas

    • Are you talking about Prof. Emeneau or some one who worked with him? If so, this book refers to Emeneau (1969) a couple of times. I do not think it is possible to tag people in wordpress comments..

    • or this one by Prof Peri Bhaskara Rao (which is not from any American university…but the title is the same)


    • No, more recent work, late 1990s early 2000s.

    • oh, okay. I found only references to these two in this book (as far as I noticed). Perhaps what you are mentioning came after this book was published.

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