Diagrammatic Iconicity in EkeGusii: A relation between the structure of form and meaning



Mariera,E.O., E.G.Mecha & G.M.Anyona


Work Unit:

Kisii University, Kenya; Kisii University, Kenya; Kisii University, Kenya


Vol.9 No.1 (Serial No.14) 2021






This paper mainly presents evidence for a relationship between language structure and meaning in EkeGusii, a Bantu language spoken in Kenya. The main argument is that the structure of language mirrors the structure of reality. A brief overview of other scholars demonstrates that diagrammatic iconicity shows universal tendencies. Five main ideas run down the discussion. Firstly, in EkeGusii, speakers sub-consciously cluster sounds around related meanings, evidencing gestalt and relative iconicity. Secondly, there is evidence of overlap of morphological and phonetic iconicity, an aspect of phonaesthesia. Thirdly, reduplication in certain infinitives demonstrates the reality of phono-iconicity in EkeGusii, augmented by unpleasant sound sequences. Fourthly, certain onomatopes in EkeGusii are actually diagrammatic, indicating that there is no one stop criterion for classifying overlapping types of icons. And finally, the paper posits that iconicity intersects with arbitrariness showing that language has both motivated and discrete symbols.

Key Words:

elisive reduplication, phonaesthesia, echoic transparency, diagram, gestalt and relative iconicity


doi: 10.26478/ja2021.9.14.4


Ajello, R. 1995. The Icon as an Abductive Process Towards Identity [A]. In R. Simone (ed.). Iconicity in language [C].Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 77-83.

Anyona, G. M. 2017. Phonological and Morphological Nativisation of English Nouns Borrowed into EkeGusii: A constraint-based approach [D]. PhD Dissertation. Kisii: Kisii University.

Arnheim, R. 1969. Visual Thinking [M]. Berkeley: University of California Publishers.

Bickmore, L. S. 1997. Problems in Constraining High Tone Spread in EkeGusii [J]. Lingua, 102(4):265- 290.

Blust, R. 2001. Thao Triplication [J]. Oceanic Linguistics, 40(2):324-335.

Bosire, K. M. & G. K. Machogu. 2013. Authoritative EkeGusii Dictionary: Endabaro endabasia y’EkeGusii [M]. Nairobi, Kenya: EkeGusii encyclopedia project.

Brdar, M. 2013. Adjective Reduplication and Diagrammatic Iconicity [A].InM. Liović (ed.). Dreamers and Scientists: Anthology in honor of the 70th anniversary of the birth of Branka Brlenić-Vujić[C].Osijek: Josip Juraj Strossmayer University, 489-514.

Bybee, J. 1985a. Morphology: A study of the relation between meaning and form [M]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Bybee, J. 1985b. Diagrammatic Iconicity in Stem-inflection Relations [A]. In J. Haiman (ed.).Iconicity in Syntax [C]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 11-47.

Cammenga, J. 2002. Phonology and Morphology of EkeGusii: A Bantu language of Kenya [M]. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

Croft, W. 2003. Typology and Universals [M]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

De Cuypere, L. 2008. Limiting the Iconic: Iconicity and language and literature [M]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Dingemanse, M. 2011. Ezra Pound among the Mawu: Ideophones and iconicity in Siwu [A]. In P. Michelucci, O. Fischer & C. Ljungberg. (eds.). Semblance and Signification [C]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 39-54.

Dingemanse, M. 2015. Ideophones and Reduplication: Depiction, description, and the interpretation of repeated talk in discourse [J]. Studies in Language, 39(4):946-970.

Downing, L. J. & B. Steibels. 2012. Iconicity [M]. Berlin: ZAS.

Elleström, L. 2013. Introduction: Instrumental and formal iconic signs [A]. In L. Elleström, O. Fischer & C. Ljungberg (eds.). Iconic Investigations [C]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1-10.

Fischer, O. 2011. Cognitive Iconic Grounding of Reduplication in Language [A]. In P. Michelucci, O. Fischer & C. Ljungberg (eds.). Semblance and Signification, Iconicity in Language and Literature 10 [C]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 55-81.

Fonagy, I. 1961. Communication in Poetry [J]. Word, 17:194-218.

Fordyce, F. J. 1988. Studies in Sound Symbolism with Special Reference to English [D]. PhD Dissertation. Los Angeles: University of California.

Gasser, M., N. Sethuraman & S. Hockema. 2005. Iconicity in Expressives: An empirical investigation [A]. In S. Rice & J. Newman (eds.). Experimental and Empirical Methods [C]. Stanford: CSLI Publications, 1-18.

Gil, D. 2005. From Repetition to Reduplication in Riau Indonesian [A]. In Hurch, Bernhard (ed.).Studies on Reduplication [C]. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 31-64.

Haiman, J. 1980. The Iconicity of Grammar: Isomorphism and motivation [J]. Language, 56(3):515-540.

Hiraga, M. K. 1994. Diagrams and Metaphors: Iconic aspects in language [J]. Journal of Pragmatics, 22:5-21.

Hiraga, M. K. 2005. Metaphor and Iconicity: A cognitive approach to analyzing texts [M]. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Köhler, W. 1929. Gestalt Psychology [M]. New York: Liveright.

Kouwenberg, S. & D. LaCharite. 2005. Less Is More: Evidence from diminutive reduplication in Caribbean Creole languages [A]. In B. Hurch (ed.). Studies on Reduplication [C]. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, 533-546.

Kwon, N. 2017. Total Reduplication in Japanese Ideophones: An exercise in localized canonical typology [J]. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 2(1):1-31.

Ladd, D. R. Jr. 1978. The Structure of Intonational Meaning [M]. Bloomington: University of Indiana.

Lakoff, G. & M. Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live by [M]. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Ma Qinghua. 2018. The Significance of Onomatopoeia in Languagization: From the perspective of sound-meaning relationship under dynamic system principle [J]. Macrolinguistics, 6(1):43-62.

Marchand, H. 1959. Phonetic Symbolism in English Word Formation [J]. Indogermanische Forschungen, 64:146-168.

Marchand, H. 1960. The Categories and Types of Present-day English Word Formation (2nd Edition) [M]. Munchen: Verlagsbuchandlung.

Mariera, E. O. 2020. Onomatopoeic Infinitives and Nouns in EkeGusii: Evidence for imagic and relative iconicity [J]. Macrolinguistics, 8(1):36-54.

Mariera, E. O. 2021. Prosodic Simultaneity and Iconicity in EkeGusii [D]. PhD Dissertation. Kisii: Kisii University.

Moravcsik, E. A. 1978. Reduplicative Constructions [A]. In J. Greenberg (ed.). Universals of Human Language III: Word structure [C]. Standford: Standford University Press, 297-334.

Mwalimu, J. N. 2019. Continuity and Change in the Indigenous Therapeutic Systems among the Abagusii of Nyamira County, Kenya, 1880-2010 [D]. MA Thesis. Nairobi: Kenyatta University.

Nash, C. M. 2011. Tone in EkeGusii: A description of nominal and verbal tonology [D]. PhD Dissertation. Santa Barbara: University of California.

Ohala, D. 2008. Phonological Acquisition in a First Language [A]. In J. G. H. Edwards & M. L. Zampini (eds.). Phonology and Second Language Acquisition [C]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 19-39.

Omwenga, E. O., A. Hensel, A. Shitandi & F. M. Goycoolea. 2015. Ethnobotanical Survey of Traditionally Used Medicinal Plants for Infections of Skin, Gastrointestinal Tract, Urinary Tract, and the Oral Cavity in Borabu Sub-county, Nyamira County, Kenya [J]. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 176:508-514.

Peirce, C. S. 1955 [1902]. Logic and semiotic: Theory of signs [A]. In J. Buchler (ed.). Philosophical Writings [C]. New York: Dover, 98-119.

Perniss, P., T. L. Robin & G. Vigliocco. 2010. Iconicity as a General Property of Language: Evidence from spoken and signed languages [J]. Frontiers in psychology, 1:1-15.

Pietrandrea, P. & T. Russo. 2007. Diagrammatic and Imagic Hypoicons in Signed and Verbal Language [A]. In E. Pizzuto, P. Pietrandrea, R. Simone (eds.). Verbal and Signed Languages: Comparing structures, constructs and methodologies [C]. Berlin: De Gruyter, 35-56.

Rungrojsuwan, S. 2009. The Non-arbitrary Aspect of Language: The iconicity of onomatopoeic words in Thai [J]. Sky Journal of Linguistics, 22:251-276.

Schmidtke, D. S., M. Conrad & A. M. Jacob. 2014. Phonological Iconicity [J]. Frontiers in Psychology, 5:80-84.

Smoll, L. I. 2014. Me: ɾuɾu, ɸoku, and tʃitowiʃ: An analysis of ideophones in Katuena (Tunayana) [D]. MA Thesis. Leiden: Leiden University.

Singh, R. & L. Wee. 2002. On So-called Triplication in Colloquial Singapore English and Thao: A response to Blust: In memory of Stan Starosta [J]. Oceanic Linguistics,41(2):514-522.

Van Langendonck, W. 2007. Iconicity [A]. In D. Geeraerts & H. Cuyckens (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics [C]. New York: Oxford University Press, 394-418.

Whiteley, W. H. 1960. The Tense System of Gusii [M]. Kampala: East African Institute of Social Research.

  • Macrolinguistics(ISSN 1934-5755,e-ISSN 2473-6376)is an international academic journal w...
  • 1. Authors should submit the original work. This journal uses iThentic...
  • 1. Peer review of this journal consists of three procedures in sequence: initial review ...
  • The Learned Press, 9 East 37th Street, Suite: WL, New York, NY 10016, U.S.APhone: 646-831-8213Fa...