Iconic Morphology and Word Formation in Ilocano

Carl Rubino

Australian National University

Speakers, linguists, and language students of Philippine-type languages are quick to learn that once they have reached the state where they have entered the 'spirit' of their target language, certain words, heard for the first time, are immediately accessible to them. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that certain sound sequences shared by Philippine speech communities are conventionalized in such a way that semantic associations are immediately apparent. Philippine languages undoubtedly have well defined language-specific, seemingly iconic patterns of word formation and thus offer ample evidence for us to further uphold the idea that the relation between the Saussurian signifier and the signified is significantly less arbitrary than originally assumed. This paper will introduce a language, Ilocano (Iloko), where sound symbolism is a pervasive feature of the lexicon, and even manifests itself in parts of the morphology.

Ilocano is a Northern Philippine language of the Cordilleran language family spoken by about ten million people originally from Northwest Luzon Island, the largest island of the Philippine archipelago. Because the Ilocanos have been historically a very migratory people, the language is also spoken by large groups in certain enclaves of the Philippine archipelago, and even by large communities in the major urban centers of the United States.


1. Ilocano sounds in the lexicon

This section will focus on a class of words with one thing in common: they all refer to sounds. They are true words in the language, and act as roots that may be thoroughly integrated into the highly productive derivational and inflectional morphology of the language. Unlike sound words in many other languages, these words do not have any unusual phonological characteristics; they utilize the same phonemic system of non-sound symbolic words.

Like prototypical ideophones, these words may be argued to have a phonological form that bears a resemblance to the sound they describe, but because of their full productivity as derivable roots, they do not resemble ideophones in the African sense (Samarin 1965, Childs 1989, 1994). As roots, they may take verbalizing affixes to denote various actions associated with the sound they designate.

In this section, I will illustrate the noise words as roots only, categorized by sound class and phonetic structure, and then offer some examples of their use as derived verbs. I present the data as synchronic, as I believe the recurrent sound patterns have psychological reality to the Ilocano speakers who do not have access to the historical data which can attest to similar patterns appearing in related languages. Although the meaningful sound sequences to be detailed cannot be used independently, many of the sound patterns do contribute to the overall semantics. Many of the sounds involved share the final -CVC sequence of the root, recognized by Austronesian scholars to be a meaningful unit in many languages (Brandstetter 1916, Blust 1988).


1.1 Breakdown of iconic sounds

Words describing thumping sounds or violent falls that result in a thump often have the back vowel 'o' followed by a voiced velar consonant: bitog 'thump', togtog 'knock on the door', paltog 'gun'.

The sounds of breaking, splitting or cracking are often represented in the lexicon with the low vowel 'a' for high pitched sounds or the back vowel 'o' for low pitched sounds followed by the voiceless velar consonant 'k': litak 'sound of splitting (dried) bamboo, bursting sound', litok 'sound of a cracking joint', pakpak 'sound of a wooden club beating the laundry', ripak 'sound of a slammed door', ritok 'crackling sound of joints', and toktok 'sound of knocking on something hard'.

The velar nasal in coda position is often associated with buzzing, resonant, or even moaning sounds: wengweng 'buzz', areng-eng 'muffled moaning sound of pain', baeng 'sneeze', bariwengweng 'sound of stone swishing in the air', ing-ing 'sound of a violin; violin', kiling 'sound of bell', kutibeng 'sound of a guitar, guitar', kutengteng 'sound of a guitar', tingting 'sound of a small bell', kalangiking 'jingling sound (of coins)', kalangokong 'resonant sound of a coconut shell jar', kilang, klaang 'sound of an object in a tin can', and sayengseng 'buzzing sound of mosquitoes'.

The high front vowel (often followed by a voiceless consonant) is often used in words denoting high pitched sounds: singgit 'high pitched voice', sing-i 'sobbing (of a child)', sultip 'whistle', and riri 'whimper'.

The alveolar fricative is often used to represent rustling sounds or the sound of water. Unlike the more prototypical bisyllabic roots, many of these onomatopoetic roots can be tri-syllabic: karasakas 'rustling sound of leaves', karasikis 'rustling sound of bamboo', kiras 'sound of slippers', saraisi 'sound of rippling water', barasábas 'sound of heavy rain, downpour', baras'bis 'sound of light drizzle, drizzle', and dissuor 'waves breaking'.

Words representing continual and repetitive instantaneous actions often include a geminate consonant in their root and are composed of 3 syllables: saiddek [sa.?id.dek] 'hiccup', saibbek [sa.?ib.bek] 'sob', sainnek [sa.?in.nek] 'sob', and tarattat [ta.rat.tat] 'sound of typing'.

Words denoting abrupt, instantaneous actions are likely to have a glottal stop onset in the second syllable of the root, followed by the vowel 'i' for a high pitched sound, or the vowel 'o' for a low pitched sound: dol-ok 'burp', tig-ab 'burp', kur-it 'sound of striking a match', bang-es 'sniffle through the nose', dir-i 'shriek', say-a 'clear one's throat', ug-ug 'weep with the closed mouth', and kuy-at 'kick the legs'.

The velar nasal in onset position is frequently used in words representing nasal sounds: ngongo 'talk through the nose', and ngesnges 'breathe through the nose'.

Final diphthongs are used in words denoting loud shouts or screams: riaw 'scream', onnoy 'moan, sigh', pukkaw 'shout, scream', ananay 'moan out of pain', dung-aw 'lament', and laaw 'scream, moan'.

The following are some of the other common miscellaneous sounds that are lexicalized: aridakdak 'noise of approaching feet', arinebneb 'plunge in water', paratopot 'sound of diarrhea', payakpak 'sound of diarrhea', retret 'sound of the spinning wheel, sound of a grating door', arasaas 'sound of whispering', ariwawa 'sound of many voices at the same time', werwer 'sound of the sewing machine', yubuyub 'sound of the bellows', eddek 'moaning while defecating, grunt', ibit 'cry of children, whimpering', puglit 'sound of a small piece of excrement; small stool', suyaab 'yawn', tanabutob 'mutter', urok 'snore', uyek 'cough', kabbot 'puffing sound of boiling sugar', bayakabak 'heavy rain', begbeg 'pestle and mortar sound', berber 'strong wind', sarua 'vomit', ngarasngas 'crunch while eating', garadugod 'gurgling of the stomach', saretset 'hissing sound of frying lard', sanerser 'sound of an ascending kite', waneswes 'sound of bats, people hustling', nguyngoy 'whimper, pant', tabbuga 'stomp with the feet', kayabkab 'sound of flapping wings', wagwag 'shake', and ngalngal 'chew'.

1.2. Animal sounds

The sounds animals make are often lexicalized in Ilocano by a process of language-specific onomatopoeia. Like all roots in the Ilocano language, these sounds may also be verbalized with the appropriate morphology to encode the action most associated with the animal as it produces the sound.

Sounds pigs and piglets make include: gokgok 'short cry of a hog', ungik 'shrill of a hungry pig', ngurisngis 'cry of hungry pigs', ngusab 'snapping the jaws while eating (hogs)', and uriris 'cry of a hungry hog, cry of piglets'.

Dog sounds include: taul 'barking', taguub 'howl', angangek 'whining of puppies', and ngernger 'growling'.

Chicken sounds include (notice predominance of the voiceless velar k): arakiak 'sound of many hens', kakak 'cry of a hen', kekkek 'cry of a hen (when calling her chicks)', kiak 'shrill cry of a caught hen', kokkok 'clucking sound of chickens', kotak 'cackling sound', taraok 'crowing sound of the rooster', tarektek 'cry of the rooster calling hens',

Other specific animal sounds are: ngiaw 'meow of a cat', ngotngot 'gnawing', nguy-a 'writhe in pain upon being slaughtered', emmak 'bleating sound of a sheep', gakgak 'croaking sound of frogs', garraigi 'neighing of horses', garikgik 'neighing of horses, bleating of goats', it-it 'the cry of a rat or snake', kakkak 'cry of frogs', gikgik 'cry of the gikgik bird', nguak 'cry of the water buffalo', ukik 'cry of the fruit bat (panniki)', riari 'sound of a cricket, cry of a cicada', salaksak 'sound of the kingfisher', sayengseng 'buzzing sound of mosquitoes', tektek 'cry of the house lizard (alotiit)', torokotok 'cooing sound of pigeons', tottot 'cry of rats', uga 'cry of cows or deer', and wak 'sound of crow; crow'.

Like most roots in the language, the above lexicalized sounds are used in Ilocano discourse either alone as nouns, or as fully productive derived verbs or adjectives:

(1) N-ag-bales ti kuyegyeg ken ngaretnget
PF-I-alternate ART tremble and gnash
'The trembling and gnashing of the teeth alternated (in fear)'.

(2) Na-buak ni Celine idi n-ag-kilang ti kampana
INVOL.PF-scamper PA Celine PST PF-I-ring ART bell
'Celine scampered when the bell rang'.

(3) Kasla naka-ngalngal iti sili-ti-sairo iti pan-ag-diwig=na
like ADJ-chew OBL pepper-ART-devil OBL NOM-I-crooked.mouth=3sE
'His crooked expression looks as if he chewed on hot sili pepper'.

(4) Simminggit a simminggit ti uni agingga iti
singgit{in-um} a Word.1 ti uni agingga iti
shrill{PF-I} LIG Word.1 ART sound until OBL
n-ag-tungpal a kasla ma-buong a baso.
PF-I-end.up LIG like INVOL-break LIG glass
'The shrill sound kept screeching until it ended up like broken glass'.

2. Derived onomatopoetic words

Aside from deriving different types of verbs from onomatopoetic roots by means of various affixes as described above, there are certain morphological processes involved solely with onomatopoetic roots. Section 2.1 will deal with some sound symbolic morphological processes, and Section 2.2 will exemplify the three infixes that seem to have onomatopoetic origin: the productive -an- infix, and the fossilized (no longer fully productive) infixes -ar- and -ag-, -al-, and ñay-.


2.1. Morphological processes associated with onomatopoetic roots

Morphological processes dealing with 'noise words' are not common in the world's languages. Childs (1994:185) asserts that African ideophones display little morphology, usually the only productive processes available to them are iconic lengthening or reduplication. There are, however, some languages that have specific morphology used only with sound words. Rhodes (1994:290) demonstrates that English, for instance, could be analyzed to have a derivational prefix ka- (ker- before s, pl, and for some speakers, w) used with some onomatopoetic words to designate extra loudness or acoustic complexity: ka-pow, ka-bang, ka-thump, ker-splash, ker-smack, ker-plop.

In Ilocano, there are a great number of onomatopoetic roots of either two or three syllables in length whose initial phonological sequence is CV(Cx).CxVC which undergo specific morphological processes which may be iconically associated with the sounds and/or actions they represent. Whether they form a separate lexical class is debatable (as all lexical classes are in Philippine-type languages), but they can be distinguished morphologically as a class which allows certain patterns of prefixation and reduplication not available to non-onomatopoetic roots. Onomatopoetic roots that fall into this category include are:


bilong explosion kitol knock
birang thump, slam ibang bang
bisit crack ibug bang
bisut farting libong bang
bitog thump lipag crumble
dilug thunder lipak slap
dipag crumble lipit slap
dipak crack litak burst
dipur crumble litik click
gilong rumble piling shrill
girud thunder ripak crack
gulong thunder ripuk crash
kilang clatter ripug crumble
kiling ring rissak rustle
kilong shaken jar rissibok splash
kirad slam rissik spark
kiras slippers rissit crack, hiss
kiring bell rikad grating
kiris shrill risud crumble
kitek tick rittok crackle

The onomatopoetic roots undergo no phonological alteration with the verbalizing prefixes ag- or i-. The intransitive ag- prefix is used to indicate the occurrence of the sound, while the prefix i- designates that the action denoted by the sound is performed on another entity (a THEME) which is conveyed physically or psychologically. With the transitivizing suffix -en, however, the second vowel of the root may or may not reduplicate. The prefix i- and the suffix -en create transitive verbs in which the sound is produced on or for something or someone.


Root ag- verb i-, or-en verb
kiring 'ring' agkiring 'to ring (bell)' kiringen 'to ring a bell'
tupak 'sound of drop, fall' agtupak 'fall down' itupak 'throw down'
kilang 'resonate' agkilang 'to ring (bells) ikilang 'to toll bells (for the dead)'
ripuk 'crash' agripok 'crash' ripuoken 'to smash something'

(7) Intupakna ti bagina a timmugaw.

i{n}-tupak=na ti bagi=na a tugaw{in-um}

T{PF}-fall=3sE ART body=3sE LIG sit{PF-I}

'He threw down his body upon sitting'.

With the intransitive verbalizing infix -um-, the roots usually undergo a major alteration. As if reflecting phonetically the iterative or loud nature of the sound, the second vowel of the stem is repeated, while the first (unstressed vowel) is lost:


Root -um- verb Gloss
kirad 'creak, grate' kumraad to creak, grate (door)
gilong 'rumble' gumluong to rumble (thunder)
rissit 'hiss' rumsiit to hiss (burning meat)
tupak 'fall' tumpaak to fall down with a thump

The causative prefix pa- may be used with onomatopoetic roots to indicate that the action associated with the sound of the verb root is caused or indirect. As with the intransitive -um- infix, when used with certain roots, the second vowel of the root reduplicates. These pa- forms are verbalized into transitive verbs either with the prefix i-, or the suffixes -en or -an:


Root pa- stem transitive verb
libag 'slam' palbaag palbaagen 'to slam (a door)'
lusot 'pop' palsuot palsuotan 'to shoot at someone with a pop gun'
lisit 'whish' palsiit palsiitan 'to shoot at someone with a slingshot'

(10) Pinalbaagna ti ridaw.
pa{in}-liba{R}g ti ridaw
CAUS{PF}-slam{ONOM} ART door
'He slammed the door'.

2.1.1 The onomatopoetic affix C1a- -Va2-

A few onomatopoetic roots take a special prefix consisting of a copy of the first consonant of the root and the vowel 'a'. The vowel of the second syllable of the root is also reduplicated, while the first vowel of the stem is lost. Most of the sounds expressed by these words are loud and prolonged or iterative:

Root C1a- stem Gloss
bitog 'thump' babtuog thumping sounds
biset 'fast sound' babseet darting out; spank
kireb 'wave crash' kakreeb sound of crashing waves
kitol 'click' kaktuol clicking sounds (heels)
dipor 'crumbling' dadpuor crumbling or rumbling sound
dissuor 'waterfall' dadsuor fall down with a thump

These C1a- -V2- stems may be combined with a variety of prefixes, infixes or suffixes to create endless permutations of onomatopoetic lexemes, i.e. madadsuor 'to fall down with a thump', pababtuogen 'to slam the door', agbabtuog 'to make thumping sounds', mababseet 'to dart out', pababseeten 'to spank', kumaktuol 'to click (heels when walking)', makakreeb 'to crash (doors, waves)', etc.

2.1.2 Full reduplication of onomatopoetic roots

Some onomatopoetic roots may be fully reduplicated to express the continual or repeated occurrence of a sound or an action associated with the sound. The reduplicated stem may be verbalized with a variety of affixes.


kiras 'scraping sound' kumiraskiras to continually scrape against the ground (slippers)
kiring 'ring' agkiringkiring to ring continually
padak 'trot' agpadakpadak to trot (horses)
libong 'bang' aglibonglibong to explode continually

(13) Kumiraskiras ti tsinelasna iti datar.
kiras{um}-R ti tsinelas=na iti datar
scraping.sound{I}-CONT ART slipper=3sE OBL floor
'Her slippers kept scraping on the floor'.


2.2 Sound symbolic infixes

Of the three infixes outlined in this section, only one is still productive to a certain extent, the -an- infix. The other infixes, -ar- and -ag-, are usually not meaningfully decomposable by Ilocano speakers and are therefore not considered separate morphemes. They clearly derive, however, from an onomatopoetic pattern of word formation.

2.2.1 The -an- infix

The -an- infix is responsible for a large number of lexical items in Ilocano. It is also used in a few morphological patterns to indicate the intensity or continual nature of an action.

Root -an- derived form Gloss
sao 'speak' sanao speak vociferously and continually, stomp while talking; blab
sakuntip 'smack lips' sanakuntip continual smacking of lips
saltep 'smack lips; sanaltep continual smacking of lips
bingrot 'suck up (nasal mucus)' baningrot repeated sniffling
singlot 'suck up nasal mucus' saninglot sob (while sucking up nasal mucus)
sang-i 'sob' sanang-i sob continually
tabbaaw 'curse' tanabbaaw curse repeatedly and vociferously
taul 'bark' tanaul repeated barking
tupra 'spit' tanupra continual spitting (while talking)
tang-ab 'reveal' tanang-ab gossip

Like the infixes -ar- and -ag-, the -an- infix is often used with bisyllabic roots of a reduplicated CVC sequence to indicate the continual aspect of the action or sound associated with the referent specified in the root. In some cases, this creates new lexical items.


Root -an- derived form Gloss
satsat 'tear' sanatsat continual whipping
setset 'hissing sound' sanetset hissing sound; burning heat
berber 'draft of air' banerber swift breeze, strong current
batbat 'whip, throw down' banatbat fall from high place
besbes 'bundle' banesbes sound of rapid movement
perper 'abundant' panerper do one after another
pekpek 'cram' panekpek resound (wood when hit)
pirpir 'flutter' panirpir continual fluttering
sapsap 'scrape' sanapsap chomp on food

The -an- infix is placed before the first vowel of the root, not the prefix, when deriving verbs. The vowel of the second syllable of the stem does not reduplicate in this case if the root is a C1VC2-C1VC2 sequence:


(16) karkar ® kanarkar ® agkanarkar
raspy voice to have a raspy voice

saltep ® sanaltep ® agsanaltep
smacking lips to smack the lips

sapsap ® sanapsap ® agsanapsap
chomping food to chomp on food

togtog ® tanogtog ® tumanogtog
rumbling sound to make a rumbling sound

begbeg ® banegbeg ® banegbegen
knocking sound to knock on something

(17) Kasla nasam-it a samiweng ti panagdengngegna dagiti.
kasla na-sam'it a samiweng ti panag-dengngeg=na dagiti
like ADJ-sweet LIG music ART NOM-hear=3sE PL
anit-it dagiti andidit iti kakawatian.
anit-it dagiti andidit iti kakawati-an
creak PL cicadas OBL cacao-LOC.NOM
'His listening to the creaking sounds of the cicadas in the cacao grove is like sweet music (to the ears)'.

The infix -an- may be combined with the intransitive affixes ag- or -um- to form iterative verbs associated with the action designated by the root.

(18) Simmanengseng ti bala iti ngatuen ti ulona.
sengseng{{an}{in-um} ti bala iti ngatuen ti ulo=na
whiz{{CONT}PF-I} ART bullet OBL over ART head=3sE
'The bullets whizzed over his head'.

(19) Nagranipak dagiti bato ken naganek-ek dagiti piek
n-ag-ripak{an} dagiti bato ken n-ag-anek'ek dagiti piek
PF-I-slam{CONT} PL stone and PF-I-sob PL chick
a baddeken dagiti ayup.
a baddek-en dagiti ayup
LIG step-T PL animal
'The stones slammed down (the mountain) and the chicks sobbed out of pain from being trampled by the animals'.

The causative affixes pag- -en, or pa- -an may also be used with the infix -an- to form causative iterative verbs.

(20) Pinagbanesbesko ti bisikletak.
pag{in}-banesbes ti bisikleta=ko
CAUS{PF.T}-swift ART bicycle=1sE
'I sped up my bicycle (whizzing it through the air)'.

In order to further specify the continual or frequent nature of an iterative verb stem with the infix -an-, full reduplication may also be employed.

(21) Sumanaosao diay balasang.
sao{um{{an}-R diay balasang
speak{I{{ITER}-CONT DIST young.woman
'That young (unmarried) woman keeps on blabbing'.

2.2 The prefix k[an]a- and m[an]a- with CV(Cx)-CxVC onomatopoetic roots

The infix -an- may be used with onomatopoetic roots of CV-CVC structure with the intransitive prefixes ag- or ma- to designate iterative or continuous sounds or events. The -an- infix in this case is placed before the 'a' of the prefix ka-, while the first vowel of the CV-CVC stem is dropped and the second vowel (in the second syllable) is reduplicated. The stress of the resulting kana- onomatopoetic noun falls on the first of the reduplicated vowels:

Root kana- -V1 + V2< Gloss
dipág 'crumble' kanadpáag sound of continuous crumbling
gulóng 'rumble' kanaglúong sound of continuous rumbling
ripák 'cracking sound' kanarpáak successive cracking or firing sounds
kiláng 'clatter' kanakláang successive clattering sounds
tipák 'thump' kanatpáak falling down with thumps
lip't 'slapping sound' kanalp'it succession of light slapping sounds
risúd 'crumble' kanarsúod continuous crumbling
dilúg 'thunder' kanadlúog continuous thunder
girud 'thunder' kanagrúod continuous thunder

The k[an]a- prefix may also attach to roots of a CVCi-CiVC structure, where the medial consonant is the same (geminate). In this case, the vowel of the first syllable is still dropped, and the vowel of the second syllable of the root is repeated. The underlying geminate consonant of the root is shortened to a single onset consonant. Roots longer than the CVC-CVC sequence that have a geminate consonant undergo the same phonological alternation with k[an]a-, but the extra phonological material in the stem in unaltered.


Root kana- noun Gloss
riss'k kanars'ik succession of crackling sounds
rittók kanartúok sound of continuous crackling
rissibók kanarsibók splashing in water
rissibák kanarsibák sound of falling rocks
rissak kanarsáak sound of crushed dry leaves
rissit kanars'it sound of hissing (frying lard)

(24) Napardas ti kanaktuol ti sapatos nga immadayo.
na-pardas ti ka{an}-kitol ti sapatos nga adayo{in-um}
ADJ-fast ART ONOM{CONT}-click ART shoes LIG far{PF-I}
'The sound of the clicking heels of the shoes running away was fast'.

The intransitive prefixes ma- and ag- may be employed with the onomatopoetic -an- stems to form onomatopoetic verbs. The same phonological rules apply as described above. With the prefix ma-, the ka- prefix is dropped, and with the prefix ag-, it is retained.






sound of burning flesh

hissing sound of burning meat

to produce a hissing sound

to produce a hissing or crackling sound





sound of splashing in the water

sound of continuous or loud splashing

to make a loud splash

to fall in the water with a splash


With the transitive causative prefixes ipa- or pa- -en, the causative morpheme pa- functions as part of the stem with regard to reduplication. The -an- infix is placed before the 'a' of the causative prefix pa- to designate indirect verbs associated with a particular sound.




sound of splashing in the water

to plunge something into the water



crackling sound of joints

to repeatedly crackle the joints



sound of a gunshot

to fire a gun, make firing sounds



sound of knocking or crumbling

to knock down (a building)



sound of a slap in the face

to slap someone in the face



sound of a slam or thump

to slam, produce thumping sounds



sound of crushed leaves

to step on leaves, producing a crushing sound

(27) Pinanalbaagna ti ruangan sa pimmanaw.
pa{in}-libag{an}=na ti ruangan sa panaw{in-um}
CAUS{PF}-slam{ONOMA}=3sE ART door then leave{PF-I}
'He slammed the door and then left'.


3. The -ar- infix

The -ar- infix is no longer productive. It is often used with reduplicated bisyllabic CVC sequences, placed before the first vowel of the stem to create onomatopoetic words or lexicalized items associated with the sound of the word. In some roots it may be morphologically decomposed, as the phonological material without the infix also exists as a word in the language that can be related to the derived form with the infix, i.e. satsat 'tear, rip garments' ® saratsat 'unseam; gut; disembowel'; tedted 'drop, droplet' ® taredted 'continual drops'; togtog 'knock' ® tarogtog 'repeated knocking'; medmed 'restrain' ® maredmed 'hesitate to do'.

The -ar- infix seems to be quite productive in the history of the language. Many words that contain the now fossilized prefix may no longer be semantically or auditorily associated with the non-infixed stem as shown in the table below:

(28) Root Gloss -ar- derivation Gloss

tengeteng stetch, extend tarengteng go directly to
bekbek stocky barekbek bubble
et-et tight aret-et creaking sound
gingging envious garingging straddle

The following lexical items contain the -ar- infix and designate particular sounds. They may all be verbalized with the intransitive affixes ag- or -um-.

aret-et 'creaking sound', baresbes 'sound of water (besbes- bundle)', barekbek 'to bubble (bekbek- stocky)', barokbok 'bubbling sound', barutbot 'frequent farting', garakgak 'loud laughter', garalgal 'stammer', garikgik 'neigh (horses); bleat (goats)', karekkek 'sound a hen makes when calling chicks', karikkik 'tickle', marekmek 'bubbles coming from the bottom of a glass', ngarasngas 'crunch', ngarebngeb 'gnash the teeth', ngaretnget 'gnash', parokpok 'rapids, bubbles', parotpot 'sound of ammunition', sarangsang 'crispy; humorous (laughter)', saratsat 'disembowel; unravel, unseam (sound of pulling thread to unravel)', saretset 'sizzle', sarotsot 'come in quick succession (bullets)', taredted 'drop, drip', tarektek 'cry of rooster, change of voice in puberty', tarogtog 'knock at the door'.

(29) Agsasarotsot ti pabanto dagiti kabusor.
ag-R-sarotsot ti pabanto dagiti ka-busor
I-PL-quick.succession ART missle PL COMIT-oppose
'The enemies' missiles came in quick sucession'.

(30) Pinusiposna ti as-asarenna ket nagsaretset ti apuy.
pusipos{in}=na ti R-asar-en=na ket n-ag-saretset ti apuy
turn{PF.T}=3sE ART CONT-roast-T=3sE and PF-I-sizzle ART fire
'He turned (on the stick) what he was roasting and the fire sizzled'.

(31) Gumluong met no dadduma ti nasarangsang a katawana.
gulluong{um} met no.dadduma ti na-sarangsang a katawa=na
thunder{I} also sometimes ART ADJ-crispy LIG laughter=3sE
'Sometimes his crispy laughter thunders'.

The following reduplicated CVC roots contain the -ar- infix, but the semantics of the resulting lexical item can no longer be immediately associated with onomatopoetic processes in lexicalization. Like all roots in Ilocano, all of the following may be derived and verbalized with affixes.

barosbos 'grow well, shoot (plants)', darekdek 'stake', daremdem 'project, plan', darepdep 'dream', darisdis 'slope', darosdos 'slide', garadgad 'scrape, scratch', garaygay 'tassel', karadkad 'health', karangkang 'immodest behavior', karapkap 'grope in the dark', karengkeng 'flirt', karetket 'wrinkle, contract', karuskos 'slide down', marangmang 'front row', maredmed 'refrain', ngaramngam 'seine', ngarayngay 'test sharpness of knife', ngaruyngoy 'food craving', saragsag 'restless', saramsam 'snack', sarawsaw 'botch, do unevenly', saribsib, sagibsib 'shoot of banana', saripsip 'cut grass to the roots', saluksok, saroksok 'insert between', tarektek 'cry of a rooster; change (said of pubescent voice)', tarengteng 'go directly to a place', tariptip 'sp. of fish, kind of herpes', taroytoy 'sprinkle lightly (liquids)', waragwag 'spongy, porous'.

The infix -ar- also has a peculiar morphological use. When infixed to the prefix ka-, it expresses frequent action:

(32) umay to come
agkaraumay to frequently come
agkanalduok to swallow noisily
agkarakanalduok to swallow noisily and repeatedly
agpanateng to have a cold
agkarapanateng to always have a cold


4. The -ag- infix

The infix -ag-, like all infixes in Ilocano is placed before the first vowel of the root. Like the infix -ar-, it is often used with bisyllabic reduplicated roots of a CVC sequence. The lexical items created with the infix -ag- are less likely to represent onomatopoetic words associated with the sound of the referent designated by the root, but many form lexical items specifying iterative processes that may have evolved onomatopoetically in the history of the language.

(33) Root Gloss -ag- derived form Gloss

sepsep suck sagepsep absorb
singsing ring sagingsing distinctive feature
sorsor wander sagorsor loose ends of thread
wayway entension, allowance wagayway flag
tadtad chop tagadtad line, row; arrangement

ageb-eb 'species of black freshwater shrimp', bagaybay 'encircle game with a long rope made of palm leaves', dagoldol 'insist, force', pagetpet 'kind of grass', pagawpaw 'overfill', pagudpod 'Bermuda grass', pagospos 'fade', pagotpot 'bamboo strips (used in basket weaving)', sagadsad 'in succession', sagaysay 'comb', sagepsep 'absorb, soak', sagiksik 'brisk, lively', sagerser, sagorsor 'entangled; full of knots', sagingsing 'distinctive feature', sagitsit 'hissing sound; very hot', sagiwsiw 'whistle', sagorsor 'loose ends of a thread; full of knots; entangled', tagadtad 'arrange in a line, row', tagamtam 'include (what is not supposed to be included)', tagingting 'young bulo bamboo' wagayway 'flag'.

Palugodannak kuma nga agpalawag ti pan-ag-sasagadsad
pa-lugod-an=mo=ak kuma nga ag-pa-lawag ti pan-ag-R-sagadsad
CAUS-permit-T=2sE=1sA OPT LIG I-CAUS-clear ART NOM-I-PL-succession
dagiti pasamak manipud pinanawannak.
dagiti pasamak manipud panaw{in}-an=mo=ak
PL happen from/since leave{PF}-T=2sE=1sA
'You should allow me to explain the succession of events that occurred since you left me'.

The last common pattern of word formation I will detail in this paper consists of root sequences with two identical CVC sequences separated by an intervening vowel, resulting in a tri-syllabic root. This particular pattern is rather marked with regard to word formation because most Ilocano roots are bi-syllabic. These particular words usually carry stress on the vowel separating the two identical CVC sequences.

It is clear that some of these lexical items denote sounds, so it is not surprising that they are expressed with more phonological material than the prototypical non-onomatopoetic root. Most of them, however, are no longer associated with the sounds they might have once represented. Words in this category include (Rubino 1997:20):

bukibuk 'scatter; overturn', gusugus 'scrub; rub hard', ngudangud 'knock down to the ground', basibas 'hurl a long object', pidip'd 'closely set together', ngurungur 'cut the throat', bugabug 'to be mixed (varieties of rice)', supusup 'lengthen; join; add', guyuguy 'suggest; convince', widawid 'swing the arms when walking', dumudum 'fall prone', salisal 'contest; competition', balabal 'scarf, muffler; wrap snugly', wingiwing 'to shake the head', wisawis 'fishing tackle', watiwat 'long, extended (roads)', talatal 'revolve on an axis', palipal 'black magic', layalay 'subside; slow down; species of marine fish', dayuday 'place of shelf; wooden shelf', kayakay 'withdraw, stay at a distance', payapay 'summon with the hand, wave the hand at', rangirang 'dry, parched land', samusam 'medley; mixture of rice', sapasap 'common, usual, ordinary', sapisap 'gourd plate', yungayung 'jut out, protrude', yabayab 'flap (flags), flutter', yakuyak 'diffuse', gulagul 'struggle', yubuyub 'billow', yugayug 'tremble, shake', kupikup 'thrifty, holding on to possessions', kunukun 'pile of stones', darudar 'third night of a full moon', gamigam 'tool, implement', garagar 'fervent wish', langalang 'wilderness, uninhabited spot', nukunuk 'heap, pile, concentration of things in one area', nurunur 'erode from water contact', ngalangal 'dislocated', ngasangas 'wear out (shoes); suffer an injury', ngatingat 'chew betel nut', ngayangay 'plan, purpose', and ngitingit 'middle; climax'.

Some of these roots also include the fossilized prefix ari-: arimokámok 'slight drizzle', arimasámas 'red skies at moonrise'.

These words may also include a fossilized infix, resulting in completely new lexical items. Infixes used with these roots are -ag-, -ar-, -an-, and -ay-.

With the -ar- infix:

{ar}asaas [ 'a.ra.sa'.as] whisper
d{ar}asadas sound of rain
ng{ar}adangad sound of log over gravel
ng{ar}asangas crunch
b{ar}atabát following in quick succession, hustling sound
b{ar}awabaw hole in a jar
b{ar}ayubay fringe of cloth; hair falling on the forehead
s{ar}abasab roast in the fire
s{ar}agasag gauzy, transparent
s{ar}abusab greedy eater; inconsiderate
s{ar}amisam drive away insects at night with torch; roast
s{ar}ungusung funnel
d{ar}angadang faint light of heavenly body
d{ar}awidaw loquacious
g{ar}amugam lascivious; rash
g[ar}awigaw snoopy, unruly

With the -al- infix:

s{al}awasaw prone to gossip, with a loud mouth
k{al}awakaw empty
b{al}agubag bark, soft wood around the core of a tree
b{al}agibág temporary fence
t{al}agitag bamboo poles used to support roofing
t{al}amitim mumble, make a muffled sound
t{al}awataw wander
s{al}ayasay sparse
s{al}iwasiw to meet each other from different directions; transgress
s{al}abusab voracious; inconsiderate
g{al}asugas obstinate

With the -an- infix:

t{an}abátab sound of voices from afar
t{an}am'tim murmur, move the lips without speaking
t{an}akatak sound of a typewriter

With the -ag- infix:

s{ag}awisiw whistle
s{ag}abasab rise in body temperature
s{ag}angasang pungent

With the -ay- infix:

d{ay}asadas torrential downpour, sound of showering
b{ay}ungobung diarrhea; cholera
t{ay}abutab loquacity, rambling talk
t{ay}amutam loquacity

6. Summary

This exposition has shown that iconicity plays an important role in the Ilocano lexicon and morphology. Many patterns outlined herein attest to the fact that certain actions in Ilocano are represented in the lexicon by recurrent patterns of onomatopoetic sequences mimicking the sounds they produce. The meaningful sound correspondences described in this paper are conventionalized by Ilocano speakers to represent particular realities of the environment, and are in no way universal in their form or function. It has also been shown that in Ilocano, words with an onomatopoetic origin may freely participate in the morphological processes available to non-onomatopoetic words and in fact may have even more morphological categories available to them, as iconic patterns of word formation have made their way into the morphology. It is my hope that more data are provided from other languages to portray the use of onomatopoeia in word formation and morphology to show that the nature of the sign in certain languages is much less arbitrary than previously assumed, and to enhance our understanding of the role of sound symbolism in the world's languages, speakers, and linguistic communities.


Blust, Robert A. 1988. Austronesian Root Theory. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Brandstetter, Renward. 1916. Root and word in the Indonesian languages. An introduction to Indonesian linguistics, translated by C.O. Blagden, 1-65. London: The Royal Asiatic Society.

Childs, G. Tucker. 1994. African Ideophones. In Hinton et al, (ed.).

Hinton, Leanne, Johanna Nichols, and John J. Ohala. 1994. Sound symbolism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rhodes, Richard. 1994. Aural Images. In Hinton et al (ed.).

Rubino, Carl. 1997. Reference Grammar of Ilocano. PhD Dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Rubino, Carl. 2000. Ilocano Dictionary and Grammar. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Samarin, W. J. 1965. Perspective on African ideophones. African Studies 24:117-121.