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Seminar: Warblish: Verbal Mimicry of Birdsong - Hannah Sarvasy, 10 Aug

Australian National University, Processing

Date: 7 July 2016

When: 2-3.30pm, Wed 10 Aug

Where: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building, ANU


This paper delimits the three principal methods humans use to evoke avian vocalizations, and explores the two that are constrained by human language: onomatopoeia and warblish. In onomatopoeia, new words are created to mimic sounds within the constraints of a language’s phonology. Warblish is the imitation of avian vocalizations with existing words in human language. None of the conventionalized ways humans imitate birdsong has yet been studied rigorously, least of all warblish, for which a term has not even existed. Combing the ethno-ornithological literature for warblish shows patterns in its functions and semantics across cultures, which range from friendly messages to ribald mocking. Warblish may evoke perceived ties between birdcalls and other natural phenomena, and can even offer clues to historical contact between human communities. As artifacts of human creativity in response to nature, warblish and the other methods of birdsong imitation described here merit interdisciplinary inquiry.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University