Noriko Hiraishi

Panel 2B: Comics and Sequential Narrative/2
Session 2 – July 1, 15:30 – 17:30

Hybrid Language in Graphic Narratives: Onomatopoeia in the Digital Age

Onomatopoeia and mimetic words have always colored our languages and literature. Japanese language, for example, is often noted with the richness of these sound-symbolic words with around 4,500 of them (Ono 2007), sometimes causing the untranslatability of Japanese literary texts, especially modern poetry. It was graphic narratives and their digital distributions that changed the situation. This paper explores the artistic expressions of sound-symbolic words in graphic narratives focusing on Japanese manga, and examines the intercultural dialogues and the emergence of some hybrid onomatopoeias in the genre. In comics and graphic novels, we read the sound-symbolic words as the sound effects through our eyes. Japanese manga has particularly developed the artistic expressions of affluent sound-symbolic words in the language. Usually placed outside the balloons, these words have been depicted elaborately, changing the size, thickness, and the shape of letters. Their designs are also important for the panel/page layout. The sound-symbolic words are considered as one of the distinguishing features of manga. It is notable that the global popularity of the genre accelerated by digital diffusion developed a new phase of intercultural dialogues regarding these words. As the translators are often not able to find the equivalent word in the target language, many translated versions leave the sound-symbolic words untouched, and put the translation in small writing by the side. This mixture of Japanese characters and the target language seems to influence the visual comprehension of sound effects among the readers worldwide. Analyzing the examples of comic works in Europe and South-East Asia, the paper will also point out the emergence of some hybrid onomatopoeias and mimetic words.


Noriko Hiraishi is Associate Professor of comparative literature at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo and pursued her research/teaching career at Mie University, University of Sydney and Ca’ Foscari University. Her major research interest has been the aspects of modernization and exoticism from the perspective of the female representations. In addition to her ongoing interest in European fin-de-siècle literature and modern Japanese literature, her current research includes studies of expansion and transformation of a culture through translation and adaptation.