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Expressives in Kam (Dong 侗): A study in sign typology (Part I)

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image of Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale

Like many Austro-Tai languages and many Sino-Tibetan languages, Kam (Dong 侗) exhibits a wealth of descriptive syllables after the verb or the adjective. These syllables, henceforth called expressives, are typically reduplicated and cover a wide range of functions such as grading, speed and manner modification, and various kinds of sound symbolism, metaphor, etc. I propose to view the expressive compound as a sign: the predicate-head functions as the signified and the expressive as the signifier. In fact, since the predicate-head itself has the classical Saussurean sign anatomy, the headexpressive compound presents the case of a complex sign or what I call a second-order sign. The attested types of relationship that hold between the signified and signifier spread across almost the whole spectrum of sign species recognized in the literature. This paper is the result of a survey of ca. 260 expressives and is one product of a long-term Kam dictionary project.


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