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Prof. Seongha Rhee: Grammar of Sound: Ideophones and Synesthetic Perception in Korean


Prof. Seongha Rhee, Mahidol University, Thailand and Hankuk Univ. of Foreign Studies, Korea:

Even though the size of ideophone vocabulary varies by individual languages, the existence of ideophones in the lexicon seems to be a universal phenomenon across languages. Korean is a language with an impressively large inventory of ideophones. This talk addresses how perceptual events, notably those involving sounds, are linguistically represented, and illustrates the pervasiveness, systematicity and productivity of the sound symbolism in Korean. Korean sound symbolism has a number of components e.g., vowel polarity, consonantal tensing and aspiration, and reduplication, the manipulation of which enables lexicalization of diverse sensations, either physical or psychological.

The system of vowel polarity operates on the opposition between the so-called ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ vowels, which creates perceptual contrasts with respect to the differential degrees of delicateness, brightness, pleasurability, bulkiness, among others (Rhee 2019, Park et al. 2023). The system of consonantal manipulation is a manifestation of force dynamics (Koo 2009, Koo and Rhee 2018a,b) and operates on the tripartite contrasts among plain, tensed, and aspirated phonetic quality of certain consonants. Sounds thus manipulated create conceptual contrasts in terms of localization, intensification, friction, etc. Reduplication, which is commonly attested across languages in ideophones, may involve either partial or total copying of an ideophonic form, and iconically encode multiplicity. This operation creates perceptual contrasts with respect to the duration and internal homogeneity of an event.

A peculiarity in Korean ideophony is that it is widely attested across perceptual dimensions, such as vision, audition, distance, depth, opacity, gustation, olfaction, tactility, etc. (Koo and Rhee 2018a, Rhee 2019, Park et al. 2021) In the domain of visual perception, the role of ideophony in color lexicalization is particularly notable. For instance, color terms are lexicalized with such variables as saturation (intensity), luminosity, extent, solidity, and pleasurability, all with variable uses of ideophones. The result is a large number of color terms, i.e., over 750 color-term entries in a contemporary dictionary. Also noteworthy is the role of ideophones in gustation lexicalization. For instance, Rhee and Koo (2017) analyze 268 adjectival taste terms, many of which involve ideophony. Similarly, a large number of olfactory terms involve ideophony in their lexicalization patterns. The operational systems of the ideophony across these perceptual and sensory domains are remarkably similar, strongly pointing to synesthetic perception. This talk presents an analysis of the underlying mechanisms in lexicalization of diverse perceptual events and the integration of ideophony in Korean grammar.


31.05.2023, 10:30 Uhr - 12:00 Uhr
Institut für Amerikanistik und Anglistik, English Language and Linguistics