Recent research on Japanese mimetics examines which part of speech the mimetic occurs as. An individual mimetic can appear as a noun, an adjective, an adverb, or a verb (Tsujimura & Deguchi 2007, 340). It is assumed by many scholars that mimetic words essentially function as adverbs (Inose 2007, 98). Few data-based studies exist that quantify the relative frequency of mimetic words in different word categories. Akita (2009) and Caldwell (2009a) have performed small scale or preliminary studies of this aspect of Japanese mimetics. The use of mimetics in other grammatical function categories has been attributed to the polysemous nature of Japanese mimetics (Key 1997). The common explanation is that the flexibility of mimetics is probably due to their iconicity (Sugiyama 2005, 307; Akita 2009; among others). Yet the definition of "iconicity" is often incomplete or cursory in nature. Newmeyer, Nuckolls, Kohn, and Key all accept or suggest the philosophies of C.S. Peirce as a possible explanation or source for understanding the iconicity of mimetic words. The purpose of this thesis is twofold: first, examine the prominent semantic theories regarding Japanese mimetics and show how the philosophies of Peirce can add clarity; second, examine overall occurrence of 1700+ mimetics per parts of speech using the data from the Kotonoha (http://www.kotonoha.gr.jp) and JpWaC (http://corpus.leeds.ac.uk/) Corpora. Peirce identified three distinct icon types: icons of abstract quality (1-1-1), icons of physical instantiation (1-1-2), and icons of abstract relation (1-1-3). These three types correspond to three distinct types of mimetic word: phonomimes (abstract sound qualities), typically predicate modifiers, phenomimes (physical actions), more often nouns or noun modifiers, and psychomimes, (relational), more often verbs or parts of verbs. Corpus data validates the observation that mimetics are usually functioning as predicate modifiers, but also supports Akita's hypothesis that psychomimes are incorporated into verbs more readily than other mimetics, which in turn is explained by the Peircean analysis.



College and Department

Humanities; Linguistics and English Language



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Document Type





Japanese, Mimetics, Semiotics, Peirce, Corpus Linguistics



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