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Expressives and the multimodal depiction of social types in Mundari

  • Nishaant Choksi (a1)


Present in many of the world's languages, expressives (also called ideophones or mimetics) are commonly discussed as iconic ‘depictions’ of speaker's sensual experiences. Yet anthropologists and linguists working with these constructions have noticed that they also index ‘social types’ that perdure across interactional events. This article analyzes the semiotic relation between depiction and social stereotypes embedded in expressive use by examining video data from interviews with speakers of Mundari, an expressive-rich Austro-Asiatic language spoken in eastern India. Presenting interview data taken from both lab-based elicitations as well as ethnographic interviews in Mundari-speaking villages, the article claims that speakers deploy multimodal resources such as gesture and gaze in concert with expressives in order to re-intepret social indexes as felt, embodied experiences (rheme) while also juxtaposing these experiences with elements in the immediately perceptible material world (dicent). The article also addresses issues of ethics, agency, and materiality entailed by multimodal expressive depiction. (Ideophones, multimodality, materiality, embodiment, semiotics)*


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Address for correspondence: Nishaant Choksi Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar Palaj, Gandhinagar, Gujarat382355,


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A special thanks to Madhu Purti, who taught me Mundari, and who, along with her family, were the primary consultants for the data presented in this article, and Nathan Badenoch, who helped facilitate the research and provided valuable comments on initial drafts of this article. I am also grateful to Toshiki Osada; participants in the 2017 American Anthropological Association conference panel (Janis Nuckolls, Anthony Webster, and Natalia Bermudez) where this work was first presented; the two anonymous reviewers; and journal editors Jenny Cheshire and Judith Irvine. Funding for the research in this article was provided by a grant-in-aid from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellowship for Foreign Researchers (P16744).



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Expressives and the multimodal depiction of social types in Mundari

  • Nishaant Choksi (a1)


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