Mumbo-jumbo and other gobbledygook. Ideophones in English, Swedish and Finnish.

Project: ResearchNational collaboration

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • Specific Languages


  • ideophones, sound symbolism, expressives, phonaesthemes, English, Swedish, Finnish


Ideophones—also known as expressives and mimetics— can be defined as marked words that depict sensory imagery. They differ from canonical, un-marked words in terms of their form, meaning and usage. Although reduplication—as in mumbo-jumbo, flimflam and hippety hoppety—is not a common word formation process in English, it is nevertheless used to create a number of ideophonic words. In terms of their meanings, ideophones give rise to vivid sensory scenes or performances: a rabbit can just hop down the meadow, or it can go hippety hoppety down the same meadow, creating an image of the way in which the animal and even its ears flap.

The purpose of this project is to investigate ideophones in English, Swedish and Finnish. Although there is plenty of work on such items in Asian and African languages, where they can occur in the thousands, there is very little systematic work done for many European languages. In addition to looking at form aspects such as phonology and morpho-syntax, we also intend to look more closely at various functional aspects, such as interactional usage and sensory meaning categories.
Effective start/end date2019/03/292020/12/03

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