Vol. 17:2 (2022) ► pp.300–324
Structural markedness and depiction
The case of lower sequential predictability in cantonese ideophones
Ideophones are marked words that depict sensory imagery and are hypothesized to be structurally marked, i.e., exhibiting unique structural properties. In this paper, “marked” is broadly used to mean phonologically marked (Dingemanse, 2021: Akita and Dingemanse, 2019). Using Cantonese ideophones as our case study, this paper measures sequential predictability within ideophones and non-ideophones, as a way to test their relative degree of structural markedness. We created a database of non-ideophones and ideophones from the Hong Kong Cantonese Corpus (HKCC) (Luke and Wong, 2015) and Mok (2001) and calculated the sequential predictability of each phoneme in various phonological contexts. The results indicate that Cantonese ideophones exhibit lower degrees of sequential predictability than non-ideophones, lending empirical support to the structural markedness of ideophones. We argue that non-ideophones exhibit a higher degree of sequential predictability because they follow the phonotactic regularities of Cantonese, whereas ideophones, to some degree, flout these regulations in favor of sequences of sounds that might better depict a given referent or percept.