Iconicity Atlas

Iconicity Atlas is an interactive multi-lingual comparative dictionary of iconic words, comprised from the existing lexicographic material and field-work material gathered by the team of researchers.

The need for the present dictionary is dictated by the absence of solid empirical evidence of the postulated cross-language similarity of iconic words. We are aiming to create a substantial corpus of onomatopoeic, sound symbolic, echoic etc. words (see section ‘WHAT IS ICONICITY’) accessible for well-founded comparison.


There are eight sections on the Iconicity Atlas webpage.

  1. ICONIC CONCEPTS – this is the main section of the Project. On the right of the screen you can see 100 colour-coded buttons, upon pressing which you will open the data cards containing all the lexicological and audio materials;
  2. LANGUAGES – in this section you will find the same data as in the previous section (apart from audio files) sorted out according to languages. Upon pressing a language from the given list you will be able to read the whole 100-word list for this language;
  3. WHAT IS ICONICITY – this section contains the basic information about language iconicity, types of iconic words (onomatopoeic, sound symbolic etc.), the list of relevant literature on iconicity, dictionaries of iconic words and a register of web-sites and research pages devoted to onomatopoeia and related subjects;
  4. HOW TO USE THIS ATLAS – it is your current location;
  5. ABOUT US – this section gives brief information about 1) the authors of the project, 2) the informants, 3) the experts who took part in creating the Atlas;
  6. NEWS – here you can look up all the important events of the Project, marked on a Timeline;
  7. CONTACT US – this section contains the contact information, you can leave your comments here;
  8. HELP THE PROJECT – if you wish to volunteer to take part in the project and become a representative of your language, here you can download the Questionnaire and the instructions how to fill it in.

Principles of Data Selection and Representation

The current Atlas contains 100 most commonly used iconic concepts which serve as a basis for cross-linguistic comparison. The 100-word list is designed after Swadesh list which is widely used for historical linguistic reconstructions. But whereas Swadesh list contains universal, culturally independent items (numbers, terms of kinship etc.) used for the historical-comparative research, the Atlas list contains a collection of concepts which are highly likely to be represented iconically in any language (hissing, wheezing, booming etc.).

The arrangement of the data is not random. On the Atlas’s main page (‘ICONIC CONCEPTS’) one can see a 10х10 field with colour-coded index cards. Different colours reflect different filiation of iconic concepts (see section ‘WHAT IS ICONICITY’) – onomatopoeic words (instants, continuants, frequentatives, instants-continuants, frequentatives-instants-continuants) and sound symbolic words (intrakinesemisms). Note that extrakinesemisms and phonesthemic sound symbolisms are NOT included into the Atlas due to their being largely language-specific.

Each card contains a list of words of different languages used to convey the meaning stated on the cart heading, the IPA transcription and a recording done by a native-speaker. The card may contain a wide commentary on the use of the given words, the dictionaries consulted stated in the beginning of each card.

If you want to see the whole 100-word list for a particular language, go to the section ‘LANGUAGES’. There you will find a register of all languages currently covered in the Project, and all the information given in the section ‘ICONIC CONCEPTS’ except for audio recordings.

Data Sources

Dictionaries of the referred languages serve as the main data source for the Atlas. However, much of the information is gained from the native speakers – apart from audio recordings often native speakers are the only available informants being able to give expressive, imitative iconic interjections that pertain to the spoken languages and comment on their use. Informants are given a Questionnaire, where all iconic concepts are represented in a descriptive form, sometimes accompanied by the audio materials.