ideophone, Quechua, cultural discourse


This paper addresses a current debate over the universality of ideophones, a class of expressions that are used to simulate, through performative foregrounding, the salient processes and perceptions of everyday life experience. Using data from Quechua-speaking Runa in Amazonian Ecuador, I argue for a view of ideophones as a type of cultural discourse through which speakers align themselves with nonhuman life forms and forces of nature. This alignment is suggested by the special performative properties of ideophones, which collapse the distinction between a speech event and a narrated event, thus compelling a speaker to become an action, event, or process, in order to communicate about it. My argument finds support in Quechua data from a variety of discourse genres, including life history narratives, myths, and casual conversations. While there may be a universal tendency for all languages to develop ideophones, there are extralinguistic factors that can constrain or inhibit their emergence as a fully blown class of expressions with unique formal properties. Evidence for the importance of extralinguistic factors to ideophonic development or decay comes from comparative data on Zulu and Japanese ideophone usage, as well as the functionally restricted use of ideophones by speakers of English.

Original Publication Citation

“To be or not to be ideophonically impoverished” In Texas Linguistics Forum, volume 47, (SALSA XI)

Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date



Symposium about Language and Society







University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor

Included in

Linguistics Commons