Photograph ©2009 by Alistair Gentry.
Ongoing cogitation with regard to the Japanese language compels me to point out that my previous post on the subject of Japanese onomatopoeia was lacking some nuance. As I pointed out previously, not only does Japanese have words imitative of actions or the sounds that various entities make when engaged in those actions (such as “plop”, or a gun going BANG) but the language also has “imitative” words relating to things that can’t be heard at all, such as feelings or certain ways of visualising a situation. Most languages that I know of have the first sort of onomatopoeia to some extent, but as far as I know very few languages have words in the latter two categories.
What I didn’t mention is that the Japanese have words for these categories of words, too. English doesn’t have these words really, except via adopted Greek- Greek being one of the world’s other great languages for specificity/pedantry. So what we call in English (via Greek) “onomatopoeia” or a phonomime is in Japanese either 擬声語 giseigo or 擬音語 giongo depending upon whether the sound originates from a living or inanimate object. This is in line with other fine distinctions the Japanese language makes between words used for referring to or counting objects depending upon whether they are alive or not, between humans and other animals, and in some cases depending upon their shape, length or other fundamental properties. But that’s a whole other dissertation.
The go at the end of all these words is 語, a language, “speech” or “tongue”. 日本語, for example, is Nihongo: the Japanese language. That’s an interesting nuance as well, the underlying assumption that objects have a language, and these objects all have their own ways of talking to us.
Words that imitate sensory elements that can’t physically be heard are phenomimes, gitaigo (擬態語), like JIIIII ジーーーー, staring at somebody. Written sound effects created to express states of the body or mind are psychomimes, gijōgo 擬情語, like SURARI スラリ: the sound of being slender.
That will be all for now, you may now carry on with your life certain that your store of useless knowledge grew just a little bit today.