Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Ideophones

This week, a little bit of whimsy. Ideophones (also known as onomatopoeias) are words whose sound invokes the idea of the meaning of the word. Some examples in English are bang, boom, and splish-splash (and yes, I already took a bath). These are often used in comics as their sound conveys action, like Batman’s pow! and bam! Basque is full of these types of words. In a recent research article, Iraide Ibarretxe Antuñano analyzed some Basque ideophones, particularly from the point of view of their structure, meaning and function. Here are some of my favorites.

A comic by Alai Zubimendi highlighting a few Basque ideophones.
  • aiko-maiko: fuss, excuse, doubt
  • balan-balan: move clumsily
  • barranbila-birrinbala: noise, racket
  • binbili-bonbolo: gently, ding-dong, rocking
  • birrin-birrin: devastate, tear
  • bolo-bolo: spreading
  • bro-bro: boil hard
  • ddalanddal: totally full
  • dzarra-dzarra: scribble, doodle
  • firri-farra: spinning wheel, follishly
  • fits-mits:speck
  • gexa-mexa: weak
  • grik-grak: crackling
  • gur-gur: stream, grown
  • kluka-kluka: in gulps
  • nir-nir: gleam, twinkling (listed as dir-dir in the Morris Student Plus Basque Dictionary)
  • nistiki-nastaka: hodgepodge, jumble
  • pil-pil: simmer (as in Basque cod al pil pil)
  • plasta-plasta: crashing down
  • taparra-taparra: walk fast
  • tibiribiri-tibiribiro: chattering away
  • traka-traka: walk, trot
  • trinkilin-trankulun: swinging
  • triki-triki: walk slowly
  • ttapa-ttapa: walk with small steps
  • ttirri-tturru: trill, warbling
  • txart-txart: punish
  • tzillo-tzallo: shuffle
  • xinta-minta: whining, whispering
  • xirimiri: small jobs, drizzle (one of my favorite words and most appropriate for the Basque Country)
  • xuxu-muxu: whispering
  • zinkurina-minkurina: complaints, groans
  • ziltzi-maltza: mess
  • zirt-zart: slashing, crackling

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