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Introduction: The languages of Mainland Southeast Asia (Map 1) are resplendent with elaborate grammatical resources for fashioning elaborative expressions that convey emotions, senses, conditions, and perceptions that enrich discourse – both everyday and ritualized – and are grammatical works of art. Over time, a sizeable terminological lexicon has been created to categorize or classify these resources, including echo words, phonaesthetic words, chameleon affixes, chiming derivatives, onomatopoeic forms, ideophones, and most notably expressives. As Diffloth (1979: 50) pointed out some time back now, ‘ expressives are easy to formally identify due to their particular morphology ’. Speakers of these languages employ significant and complex strategies for the expression of qualities and attributes, feelings and thoughts, and meta-commentary through the use of these formatives as components of grammar. These aesthetic qualities of language, which are formed from grammatical capital, are emergent in the poetry of everyday speaking. When we speak of the ‘ aesthetics of grammar ’ from a linguistic perspective, we face challenges. Neither the term ‘ aesthetics ’ nor the term ‘ grammar ’ is unencumbered by semantic baggage, although most readers will share general agreement on ‘ grammar ’. While other disciplines such as anthropology and folklore have confronted the issues of the aesthetic in speech, their approaches have tended to revolve around the communicative aspects and not the grammatical ones. The intent of this volume is not to stand in reinforcement of such a distinction, but instead to explore the mechanisms by which aesthetic qualities of speech – involving the formal and functional manipulation of articulatory features within phonotactic parameters by speakers and invoking patterns and principles whereby new and novel forms can be appreciated by listeners – are part of grammatical knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Aesthetics of Grammar
Subtitle of host publicationSound and Meaning in the Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139030489
ISBN (Print)9781107007123
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011


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