Quechua, expression, Ecuador, sound symbolism


Recent work by anthropologists, folklorists, and semioticians has made significant strides in our understanding of the dynamics and poetics of spoken utterances. Such work has been motivated, generally, by the goal of understanding verbal expression in terms of its own unique structures and expressive modalities. The following paper will contribute to this line of inquiry. It offers an analysis of a form of expression, sound symbolism, that is widely used by people whose languages have not been written down. The main advantage of this analysis is that it rescues sound symbolism from the irrational abyss into which it has often been consigned. It also illuminates one of the ways in which language can be said to share properties with other systems of signs (Jakobson 1960: 351). I will argue that linguistic sound symbolism is used by Quechua speaking people in eastern Ecuador to create a type of concreteness and imageability that is functionally analogous to visual modes of expression. Sound symbolic perfomances simulate the unfolding of an action, event, or process. Because of their formal, stylistic, and semiotic distinctiveness, sound symbolic performances are detachable from their discursive surroundings as texts of perception. The discursive functions of sound symbolic texts can best be understood by using terminology from film and video technique. My argument will be based on analyses of statements made by Quechua speakers when asked about the meanings of sound symbolic words. I conclude by suggesting connections between Quechua speakers' use of sound symbolic language and their ecological, aesthetic, and phenomenological orientations.

Original Publication Citation

"Quechua Texts of Perception" Semiotica 103-1/2 Jan./Feb.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



De Gruyter Mouton







University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor

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Linguistics Commons