Thursday, February 22, 2007

Visual onomatopoeia

Check out the trope on "פרשי כנפים" in Exodus 25:20.


  1. "Subject: RE: visual onomatopoeia (long-winded response)
    Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 14:06:21 -0400

    I take it the SME is asking:

    1. Are there words that look like what they mean?
    2. Is there a word for this sort of word?

    In the case of onomotopeia, we hear a sound, then attempt to transcribe it.

    Written English lends itself to this very nicely, since it is in fact a system for transcribing sounds. However, its function does not include visually representing things, at least not by design. So, if there ARE words that look like what they mean it's probably by accident. (At least, I can't think of any!)

    The answer to number 2 is "yes": pictograph.

    However, I've only heard this term used to describe entire writng systems, such as Chinese. I don't think it would be accurate to use it to describe an English word that looked like what it meant.

    For one thing, such a word would still have a specific sound dictated by the spelling, and this characteristic is not included in the idea of "pictograph" per se."


  2. If visual onomatopoeia extends to punctuation marks, then I propose the following. When a dog is curious about something it smells on the ground, it tail curls in the shape of a question mark. I imagine a time prior to language when primitive peoples expressed themselves to others by pointing to animals, then later painting animals in various positions. I have not been able to verify, but I imagine the question mark being derived in such a way. Similarly, when a dog is alarmed by something it sees, it's tail shoots straight up in the air like an exclamation point, or even a flag pole.

  3. Its known in the design industry as 'iconicity'. Pictography is used for hand writtin symbols, hence Chinese. Hope this helps.
    Jerry, Bristol, uk