Iconicity Atlas

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

Its purpose is to collect a substantial corpus of onomatopoeic, sound symbolic, echoic etc. words of different languages accessible for well-founded comparison, see (Flaksman, Noland 2016).


There are eight sections on the Iconicity Atlas webpage.

  1. ICONIC CONCEPTSThe data arrangement within the Atlas was inspired by the Swadesh List widely used for historical linguistic reconstructions. It presents 100 sections of most frequently used concepts of sound denotation (e.g. humming, roaring, buzzing etc.). Each section contains several entries which describe the concept: the heading, the IPA transcription and pronunciation recorded from a native-speaker. The entries also contain structural models (e.g. E. bang ClabplosVCvelnas) which give reference to phonotypes rather than individual phonemes.
  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 clicking on 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 – This section explains how to use this Atlas;
  5. ABOUT US – this section gives brief information about 1) the authors of the project, 2) the informants and contributors, 3) the experts who are taking 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, and you can leave your comments here;
  8. TAKE PART IN – 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.