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Rebekah Baglioni on Investigating Ideophones in African Languages

Venue: Encina Hall West, Room 219, 417 Galvez Mall.

Host: Join the Center for African Studies for our weekly lunchtime lecture series, Africa Table.

Speaker: Rebekah Baglini, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities, Department of Linguistics, Stanford University. Baglioni's research centers on lexical semantics and cross-linguistic variation.  Of special interest is the way that languages encode 'stative concepts'—a set of universal concepts relating to abstract properties realized by entities in the world, including dimension, age, speed, value, and color. Baglini received her PhD in Linguistics from the University of Chicago in 2015, received support for her dissertation on Wolof in Senegal from the NSF, was the Bloch Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America from March 2011 to March 2013, and previously worked as a Visiting Lecturer in Linguistics at UC San Diego.

Description: Ideophones are words which vividly evoke sensory experiences through sound symbolism, and often play a central role in performance and social identity.  They are especially prominent among the languages of Africa: attested in all four phyla (Niger Congo, Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Khoisan), ideophones constitute up to 25% of the lexicon of some African languages. Despite this, ideophones are rarely integrated into linguistic descriptions and remain neglected by linguistic scientists. They are also vulnerable to attrition due to language change, urbanization, and the move towards written language, making their documentation a matter of some urgency. Based on my fieldwork in Senegal, I present a case study of ideophones in Wolof (Niger-Congo, Atlantic: Senegal) which highlights their grammatical properties and their use in different social and linguistic contexts. I ultimately suggest that ideophones reflect a general property of human languages to construct affect-oriented associations between form and meaning.