115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Visualization of Sound, Appearance, and Feeling: Onomatopoeia/Mimetic Words in Manga

Noriko Hiraishi, University of Tsukuba (Japan)

This paper explores the artistic expressions of onomatopoeia and mimetic words in Japanese manga, and examines its effect and influence on global manga-styled comic works. Focusing on a recent Indonesian work with sound effects in peculiar fonts, the paper will also clarify the political significance of the "Japaneseness" in global manga.

Proposal: 

This paper explores the artistic expressions of onomatopoeia and mimetic words in Japanese manga, and examines their effect and influence on global manga-styled comic works. In comics and graphic novels, onomatopoeias attempt to write sound effects on page so we can hear them through our eyes. Japanese manga has particularly developed the artistic expressions of the sound-symbolic words, as Japanese language is often noted with the richness of these words. With around 1,200 sound-symbolic words (Inui 1948), they are generally divided into two categories: onomatopoeia (phonomimes) which imitates the sound, and mimetic words which include phenomimes (words that depict appearance) and psychomimes (words that depict psychological states). Manga artists kept trying to figure out the ways of expressing onomatopoeias and mimetic words. Usually placed outside the balloons, these words have been depicted elaborately, changing the size, thickness, and the shape of letters. A phenomime which meant “the silence” was even invented in the 1950s (Tezuka 1977:112), and Fusanosuke Natsume states as follows: “As a result of diverse inventions and conversions, the onomatopoeia and its group in the manga actually even exceed the category of onomatopoeias---phonomimes/phenomimes/psychomimes---, contributing to the “multi-layering” and “differentiation” of manga’s vocabulary. (Natsume 1995:127)” The sound-symbolic words are considered as one of the distinguishing features of manga.

On the other hand, the translation of these sound-symbolic words in the manga was a problem. It took the translators a lot of hard work to devise the method, since they sometimes couldn’t find the equivalent word in the target language. The designs of onomatopoeia and mimetic words in manga works have been another issue. They are often important for the panel/page layout. Consequently, many translated versions leave the sound-symbolic words untouched, and put the translation in small writing by the side. It is notable that this mixture of Japanese characters (especially hiragana and katakana) and the target language seems to influence the global manga, manga-styled comic works worldwide. Taking up a case of the latest Indonesian work with sound effects in a peculiar font, the paper will also clarify the political significance of the "Japaneseness" in global manga.