Joyce’s Noises


James Joyce uses both lexical and nonlexical onomatopoeia extensively in Ulysses; this essay examines some of the ways in which he employs the latter in order to convey noises of many kinds. Nonlexical onomatopoeia is particularly suited to the evocation of noise, though it can only do so in conjunction with shared literary and linguistic conventions. Several of the characters in Ulysses show an interest in the representation of noise in language, but there are many more examples where there is no evidence of mental processes at work. The reader’s pleasure in Joyce’s nonlexical onomatopoeia is very seldom the result of vivid imitation; it is, as these examples testify, Joyce’s play with the workings of the device (and frequently its failure to imitate the nonlinguistic world) that provides enjoyment and some insight into the relation between language and sound.

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