Ideophones and (non-)arbitrariness in the K'iche' poetry of Humberto Ak'abal

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13 Scopus citations


This paper examines the ways in which Ak'abal uses K'iche' ideophones and arbitrariness to highlight differences between Mayan languages and Spanish. This paper focuses on Ak'abal's sound poems constructed through the use of K'iche' ideophones, primarily onomatopoetic forms representing natural phenomena such as animal sounds, the movement of water, and sounds associated with weather. Ak'abal often treats non-onomatopoetic words (such as the names of birds) as ideophones, suggesting a direct (unmediated) relationship between K'iche' signs and the natural elements of the environment. These uses of ideophones allow Ak'abal to position Mayan languages and literature as spiritually connected to the environment, in sharp contrast to the environmental destructiveness he associates with Spanish and Ladino cultural dominance in Guatemala.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)406-418
Number of pages13
JournalPragmatics and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


  • Humberto Ak'abal
  • Ideophones
  • K'iche'
  • Language revitalization
  • Mayan languages
  • Poetry
  • Verbal art

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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