Waza waza

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The illustration is from Taro Gomi, An Illustrated Dictionary of Japanese Onomatopoeic Expressions, by way of a new addition to our blogroll, The Ideophone, by Mark Dingemanse.

Taro Gomi is also the author of the great children's book Everyone Poops.

Mark Dingemanse is a PhD student in the Language and Cognition group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

And ideophones are classes of words, found in many languages, where phonetic symbolism becomes to some extent systematized. You can find discussion of many examples on Mark Dingemanse's blog; and there was an extended discussion of some older work on ideophones in "Ask Language Log: Sounds and meanings" (3/9/2008).

Some further investigation of wazawaza can be found here, where one of the glosses given is "… when someone does something on purpose. Although there is an easier way to take action, he/she chooses harder, more complicated, more troublesome way or someone takes action that is not needed." Example:

"Hashi ga aru noni wazawaza kawa o oyoide wataru."
(Although there is a bridge, he/she swims across the river.)

Unexpectedly, there is no weblog named wazawaza, at least not in roman letters.

Here's another of Taro's illustrations:

These two Japanese ideophones help make a useful point: although the "arbitrariness of the sign" is attentuated in such onomatopoeic words, it's by no means gone entirely. Try this experiment on your friends: give them the words waza waza and uja uja, and ask them to guess which means "many small things gathered together and moving, such as a swarm of insects or a crowd of people seen from a distance", and which means "doing something difficult on purpose, even though there is no need to, such as swimming across a river instead of taking the bridge". My prediction is that more English speakers will guess wrong than right.

Another thing that I learned about from Mark Dingmanse's blog is Zotero, "a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources", and (apparently) the only major Web 2.0 product with an Albanian name.

[Update — John Cowan writes:

I ran the test on my linguistically naive wife and daughter independently,
and they both got the correct answers.


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