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A Study in Flim-Flam: Reduplicative Ablaut Ideophones in English


  • Ted Jansson Wallace

Summary, in English

In this study I analysed reduplicative ablaut ideophones in English for their morphosyntactical properties, as ideophones in other languages have been found to have several marked characteristics in this respect. Informed by the typology of ideophones in other languages, my research questions were whether the reduplicatives would appear integrated into or outside of sentences, if they would fill functions associated with traditional word classes, whether they would inflect and derive like other words, and if they would be limited to declarative type sentences and resist negation. I collected data from the iWeb corpus on the six reduplicatives flim-flam, zig-zag, knick-knack, dilly-dally, shilly-shally and wishy-washy, gathering 30 samples of usage on the bare reduplicative and 10 samples of any inflected/derived forms. My results showed all samples to be highly integrated syntactically and morphologically. The answer to my research questions was thus that the reduplicatives would not seem to exhibit the marked properties noted for ideophones in other languages. This could in part be due to their being found in writing and having been in the language for long enough to become de-ideophonized and more integrated. Overall, the scope of the study was very limited and did not encourage any generalisations on ideophones in English.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Ideophones Reduplication Iconicity


  • Satu Manninen (Professor)