Colloquium: Janis Nuckolls

Date(s) - 02/15/2018
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

3108 JKB


Janis Nuckolls, Linguistics & English Language, will present for the Humanities Center’s weekly colloquium on Thursday, February 15th. The presentation will be held at 3:00 PM in room 4010 JFSB.

“The Role of Onomatopoeia in Renaissance English, Radical Protestantism, and Ideas about Language and Nature”

If you have ever read a picture book to a young child and imitated the sounds of animals, you might find this talk illuminating. Despite the fact that onomatopoeia is in widespread use by speakers of every major continent, it is often mischaracterized as simple and not part of real language. I argue that the idea of sound imitation as ‘simple’ is many-layered and has evolved and crystallized over centuries of literary and scientific discourse. I trace its mischaracterization to the 1658 publication, Orbis Pictus, by Jan Amos Comenius, a Moravian born radical Protestant and educational visionary whose pedagogical ideas have now become mainstream. I suggest that Comenius’s use of onomatopoeia in Orbis Pictus was motivated by a positive Renaissance outlook which valued its alleged ‘simplicity’ for complex political reasons. Later, in the context of 19th century philological debates about the origins of language, however, descriptors such as ‘mere onomatopoeia’ or ‘simple onomatopoeia’ begin to reflect an altogether different view about the place of nature in language. Alternative ideologies about the complexity of onomatopoeia are shared from a sample of a digitized corpus of over 500 utterances from speakers of the Pastaza Quichua language of Amazonian Ecuador.

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