My wife’s sms comes through mid-morning:

how would you define an ideophone?

I imagine the conversation diverging from the task at hand, the English teachers (supposed to be) discussing next term’s syllabus and sharing out the work for it, and the sudden foray into isiZulu linguistics. I try to figure out what the best approach would be, knowing the people around the table.

A word which mimics a sound descriptively associated with an action or state in which an object, animal or person is. A sound effect, much like the ones used in graphic novels or cartoons – though more extensive in application. Kind of a sound effect mixture of adverb, adjective and verb.

And I leave out so much – that they are one of the most wonderful characteristics of the language of heaven. That there is an ideophone for the breaking of a heart, and one for mass-production. That there are two different ideophones for silence, and countless ones for the way that people walk or talk or are. That there is an ideophone for each different kind of touch, from a caress to a slap.

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