Onomatopoeia, the Showing–Saying Continuum, and Perceptual Resemblance

  • Ryoko SasamotoEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Sound book series (PASTS)


Following on from the discussion in Chap.  2, this chapter presents an alternative account of onomatopoeia in the framework of relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson, Relevance: Communication and Cognition, Blackwell, 1986/1995). It will be argued that onomatopoeia is located on the continuum of showing and saying and involves communication via perceptual resemblance. This analysis, first developed in Sasamoto and Jackson (Lingua, 36–53, 2016), sees onomatopoeia as a communicative phenomenon, and it does not matter to the current study whether or not the link between sound and meaning is systematic or non-arbitrary. Onomatopoeia exploits the perceptual resemblance between its phonetic form and sensory experience. It provides both direct and indirect evidence for the first layer of information that the communicator intends to point out. The showing nature of onomatopoeia allows for the communication of nebulous, intangible impressions, which are extremely difficult to put into propositional terms. The use of onomatopoeia, this way, allows for the sharing of impressions.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SALISDublin City University SALISDublinIreland

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