Volume 20, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1877-9751
  • E-ISSN: 1877-976X
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



When it comes to onomatopoeia, it is often claimed that such words are the epitome of sound symbolism, as the link between form and meaning is felt to be “natural”. Yet, this is quite far from the case: onomatopoeic words do need to conform to the phonological and morphological restrictions of a respective language. Due to these restrictions, onomatopoeic forms can vary greatly with regard to the degree to which they are felt to be imitative of a particular sound, making it quite a challenge to succinctly delimit or define this category of words. Accordingly, the paper investigates the role of onomatopoeic formations in English and provides a novel definition of onomatopoeia that is able to encompass both novel and lexicalised examples. In order to do so, the paper advocates a metonymy-based approach to onomatopoeic forms.

While it is often stated within cognitive linguistics that metonymy is fundamental in language and cognition (see Barcelona, 2019 for a recent overview), few researchers have done so much to justify this claim as Antonio Barcelona. The present paper is in honour of this lifelong achievement.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Abelin, Å.
    (2011) Imitation of bird song in folklore – onomatopoeia or not?TMH-QPSR, 51 (1), 13–16.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Adams, V.
    (1973) An introduction to modern English word-formation. London: Longman.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Akita, K.
    (2013) Constraints on the semantic extension of onomatopoeia. Public Journal of Semiotics, 5(1), 21–37. 10.37693/pjos.2013.5.9646
    https://doi.org/10.37693/pjos.2013.5.9646 [Google Scholar]
  4. Assaneo, M. F., Nichols, J. I., & Trevisan, M. A.
    (2011) The anatomy of onomatopoeia. PLoS ONE, 6(12), e28317. 10.1371/journal.pone.0028317
    https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0028317 [Google Scholar]
  5. Attridge, D.
    (1984) Language as imitation: Jakobson, Joyce, and the art of onomatopoeia. MLN, 99(5), 1116–1140. 10.2307/2905403
    https://doi.org/10.2307/2905403 [Google Scholar]
  6. Barcelona, A.
    (2004) Metonymy behind grammar: The motivation of the seemingly “irregular” grammatical behavior of English paragon names. InG. Radden & K-U. Panther (Eds.), Studies in linguistic motivation (pp.357–374). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. (2009) Motivation of construction meaning and form: The roles of metonymy and inference. InK-U. Panther, L. L. Thornburg & A. Barcelona (Eds.), Metonymy and metaphor in grammar (pp.363–401). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 10.1075/hcp.25.22bar
    https://doi.org/10.1075/hcp.25.22bar [Google Scholar]
  8. (2011) The conceptual motivation of bahuvrihi compounds in English and Spanish. InM. Brdar, S. T. Gries & M. Fuchs (Eds.), Cognitive Linguistics: Convergence and expansion (pp.151–178). Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 10.1075/hcp.32.11bar
    https://doi.org/10.1075/hcp.32.11bar [Google Scholar]
  9. (2012) Metonymy in, under and above the lexicon. InS. Martín Alegre, M. Moyel, E. Pladevall & S. Tubau (Eds.), At a time of crisis: English and American studies in Spain. Works from the 35th AEDEAN Conference UAB/Barcelona 14–16 November 2011 (pp.254–271). Barcelona: Departament de Filologia Anglesa i de Germanística, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona – AEDEAN.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. (2019) Chapter 7: Metonymy. InE. Dąbrowska & D. Divjak (Eds.), Cognitive Linguistics: Foundations of language (pp.167–194). Berlin & Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. 10.1515/9783110626476‑008
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110626476-008 [Google Scholar]
  11. Benczes, R.
    (2019) Rhyme over reason: Phonological motivation in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/9781108649131
    https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108649131 [Google Scholar]
  12. Brdar, M.
    (2017) Metonymy and word-formation: Their interactions and complementation. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Brdar, M., & Brdar-Szabó, R.
    (2013) Some reflections on metonymy and word-formation. Explorations in English Language and Linguistics, 1(1), 40–62.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. (2014) Where does metonymy begin? Some comments on Janda (2011). Cognitive Linguistics, 25(2), 313–340. 10.1515/cog‑2014‑0013
    https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2014-0013 [Google Scholar]
  15. Bredin, H.
    (1996) Onomatopoeia as a figure and a linguistic principle. New Literary History, 27(3), 555–569. 10.1353/nlh.1996.0031
    https://doi.org/10.1353/nlh.1996.0031 [Google Scholar]
  16. Brown, R.
    (1958) Words and things: An introduction to language. New York: The Free Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Brown, B.
    (1979) Rhetorical figures of communion, presence, and severance: Toward an efficient rhetoric of business. The ABCA Bulletin, 42(3), 14–17. 10.1177/108056997904200307
    https://doi.org/10.1177/108056997904200307 [Google Scholar]
  18. Campbell, L.
    (2005) How to show languages are related: Methods for distant genetic relationship. InB. D. Joseph & R. D. Janda (Eds.), The handbook of historical linguistics (pp.262–282). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 10.1017/CBO9780511486906.008
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511486906.008 [Google Scholar]
  19. Collins English Dictionary Online
    Collins English Dictionary Online. www.collinsdictionary.com
  20. Guynes, S. A.
    (2014) Four-color sound: A Peircean semiotics of comic book onomatopoeia. Public Journal of Semiotics, 6(1), 58–72. 10.37693/pjos.2014.6.11916
    https://doi.org/10.37693/pjos.2014.6.11916 [Google Scholar]
  21. Hinton, L., Nichols, J., & Ohala, J. J.
    (1994) Introduction: Sound symbolic processes. InL. Hinton, J. Nichols & J. J. Ohala (Eds.), Sound symbolism (pp.1–12). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Hrushovski, B.
    (1980) The meaning of sound patterns in poetry: An interaction theory. Poetics Today, 2(1a), 39–56. 10.2307/1772351
    https://doi.org/10.2307/1772351 [Google Scholar]
  23. Hughes, G.
    (2000) A history of English words. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Kadooka, K-I.
    (2005) On the degree of lexicalization in English onomatopoeia from a historical perspective. The Ryukoku Journal of Humanities and Sciences, 27(1), 1–13.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Katamba, F.
    (1994) English words. London: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  26. Körtvélyessy, L.
    (2020) Onomatopoeia: A unique species?Studia Linguistica, 74(2), 506–551. 10.1111/stul.12133
    https://doi.org/10.1111/stul.12133 [Google Scholar]
  27. Kövecses, Z.
    (2006) Language, mind, and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Marchand, H.
    (1959) Phonetic symbolism in English word-formation. Indogermanische Forschungen, 64, 146–168.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. (1969) The categories and types of present-day English word-formation. München: Verlag C. H. Beck.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Meinard, M. E. M.
    (2015) Distinguishing onomatopoieas from interjections. Journal of Pragmatics, 76, 150–168. 10.1016/j.pragma.2014.11.011
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2014.11.011 [Google Scholar]
  31. Newmeyer, F. J.
    (1992) Iconicity and generative grammar. Language, 68(4), 756–796. 10.1353/lan.1992.0047
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.1992.0047 [Google Scholar]
  32. Oswalt, R. L.
    (1994) Inanimate imitatives in English. InL. Hinton, J. Nichols & J. J. Ohala (Eds.), Sound symbolism (pp.293–306). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511751806.020
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511751806.020 [Google Scholar]
  33. Rhodes, R.
    (1994) Aural images. InL. Hinton, J. Nichols & J. J. Ohala (Eds.), Sound symbolism (pp.276–292). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511751806.019
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511751806.019 [Google Scholar]
  34. Rūke-Draviņa, V.
    (1976) Gibt es Universalien in der Ammensprache?Salzburger Beiträge zur Linguistik, 2, 3–16.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Sarvasy, H.
    (2016) Warblish: Verbal mimicry of birdsong. Journal of Ethnobiology, 36(4), 765–782. 10.2993/0278‑0771‑36.4.765
    https://doi.org/10.2993/0278-0771-36.4.765 [Google Scholar]
  36. Saussure, F. de.
    (1915/1959) Course in General Linguistics. InE. Bally, A. Sechehaye & A. Riedlinger (Eds.). Trans.W. Baskin. New York: McGraw Hill.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Skorupa, P., & Dubovičienė, T.
    (2015) Linguistic characteristics of commercial and social advertising slogans. Santalka: Filologija, Edukologija, 23(2), 108–18. 10.3846/cpe.2015.275
    https://doi.org/10.3846/cpe.2015.275 [Google Scholar]
  38. The Oxford English dictionary
    The Oxford English dictionary (2000) Online edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  39. Tsur, R.
    (2001) Onomatopoeia: Cuckoo-language and tick-tocking. The constraints of semiotic systems. Cogprintsonline database of articles. cogprints.org/3232/; accessed14 July 2016.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Ullmann, S.
    (1962) Semantics: An introduction to the science of meaning. New York: Barnes and Noble.
    [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): echoic; English; imitative; metonymy; onomatopoeia
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error