In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Interjections

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Reference Works
  • Entries in Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
  • Collections of Papers
  • Issues of Definition and Classification
  • Phonetics and Phonology
  • Syntax
  • Semantics
  • Pragmatics
  • Comparative and Cross-Linguistic Studies
  • Interjections in Language Acquisition and Language Teaching
  • Interjections and Sociolinguistic Issues
  • Etymology and Other Diachronic Issues
  • Interjections in Literature
  • Interjections and Translation
  • History of Scholarship on Interjections
  • Particular Types of Interjections
  • Studies on Particular Interjections

Linguistics Interjections
Alan Libert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0230


Interjections are one of the traditional parts of speech (along with nouns, verbs, etc.), although some linguists have considered them not to be a part of language but rather instinctive reactions to a situation. The word interjection comes from the Latin interjicere “to throw between,” as they were seen as words that were tossed into a sentence, without being syntactically related to other items. Examples of English interjections are oh!, ah!, ugh!, and ouch! Interjections such as these, which are not (zero-)derived from words belonging to other parts of speech, and which have only an interjectional function, are called primary interjections; interjections that have evolved from words of other classes and which have retained their original function in addition to their new one are known as secondary interjections. Secondary interjections are often swear words, e.g. shit!, or religious terms, e.g. Jesus! Some (putative) interjections, interjectional phrases, consist of more than one word, e.g. my God!; they could be problematic for the view that interjections are a word class or part of speech. Interjections have received considerably less attention from linguists than the other parts of speech. This may be due, in part, to the just mentioned view that they are not really linguistic items and thus are of little or no interest from a linguistic point of view. However, to say that they have been neglected, as some authors do, is an overstatement; as can be seen in this article, scholars have been thinking and writing about different aspects of interjections for a long time (and note that this article mentions only works devoted (at least in large part) to interjections, not works on other subjects that also discuss interjections). Thus here one will see works on the phonetics/phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of interjections, among other subjects. There does, however, seem to be one gap in the literature: few, if any, papers focus on the morphology of interjections. A problem in compiling a bibliography on interjections is that authors disagree on what should be included in the set of interjections; for example, are onomatopoeias interjections (and thus should works on onomatopoeias be included in a bibliography on interjections)? In this article a conservative policy has been taken, and works dealing only with onomatopoeias (or greetings, etc.) have been excluded.

General Works

Various works of a (somewhat) general nature are cited in this section, including two books, Ehlich 1986, aimed at a scholarly audience (like the vast majority of the citations in this article), and Marsico 2014, meant for children. Among shorter works, a good background to the study of interjections can be gained by reading Ameka 1992a, Goddard 2014a, Karcevski 1941, and Wharton 2003. Goffman 1978 is one of the major earlier (i.e. pre-1990s) on interjections. Finally, Daković 2006 is not about interjections themselves, but rather about terms of several languages used for “interjection.”

  • Ameka, Felix. 1992a. Interjections: The universal yet neglected part of speech. In Special issue: Interjections. Edited by Felix Ameka. Journal of Pragmatics 18.2–3: 101–118.

    DOI: 10.1016/0378-2166(92)90048-G

    Serves as the introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Pragmatics on interjections (see Ameka 1992c, cited under Collections of Papers). Looks at previous thinking on interjections going back to the Greeks. Discusses interjections and some other categories of words, including particles and routines, as well as primary and secondary interjections. Posits three categories of interjections in terms of their functions: expressive, conative, and phatic interjections.

  • Daković, Sybilla. 2006. Uzvici u slavenskim jezicima i pitanje terminologije. Filologija 46.7: 67–76.

    Looks at terms used to mean “interjection,” focusing on Croatian, Polish, and Russian. Translated as: “Interjections in Slavic languages and a question of the terminology.”

  • Ehlich, Konrad. 1986. Interjektionen. Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783111357133

    A highly cited work. Considerable space is given to previous work on interjections. One chapter each is devoted to the German interjections hm “hm” and na “well.” Building on Bühler’s theory of language, posits an expeditive field (p. 239) or steering field (p. 241), besides Bühler’s pointing and symbolic fields, to account for the operation of interjections.

  • Goddard, Cliff. 2014a. Interjections and emotion (with special reference to “surprise” and “disgust”). Emotion Review 6.1: 53–63.

    DOI: 10.1177/1754073913491843

    Discusses various issues relating to interjections, including formal, semantic, and “contextual” (p. 55) typologies of them. Proposes representations in terms of the Natural Semantic Metalanguage of the meaning of several emotional interjections of English, Cantonese, and Polish. (See Gladkova, et al. 2016, cited under Semantics for a survey concerning some of these posited meanings.)

  • Goffman, Erving. 1978. Response cries. Language 54.4: 787–815.

    DOI: 10.2307/413235

    Probably the most cited work on interjections, although it also deals with self-talk, which can be distinguished from “response cries” (p. 800) (Goffman’s term for “exclamatory interjections that are not full-fledged words” [ibid.]). Discusses several kinds of response cry, including the “spill cry” (p. 801), e.g. oops!; “revulsion sounds” (p. 803); the “strain grunt” (ibid.); and the “sexual moan” (p. 804). Also looks at imprecations.

  • Karcevski, Serge. 1941. Introduction à l’étude de l’interjection. Cahiers Ferdinand de Saussure 1:57–75.

    Asserts that interjections have no “conceptual value” (p. 60). Posits two types of interjections, exclamations and “non-exclamations” (p. 61), or, respectively, onomatopoeias and “non-onomatopoeias” (ibid.). Discusses the “very strange Russian form” (p. 66), the predicative use of bux “bang.” Arranges Russian conversational interjections in a scheme involving their sounds and their functions.

  • Marsico, Katie. 2014. Interjections. Ann Arbor, MI: Cherry Lake.

    A dinosaur-themed book on interjections; for children, but it may be of interest to linguists and language teachers as an example of how some of these words and related concepts are explained to a young audience.

  • Wharton, Tim. 2003. Interjections, language, and the “showing/saying” continuum. Pragmatics & Cognition 11.1: 39–91.

    DOI: 10.1075/pc.11.1.04wha

    Posits “a continuum between showing and saying” (p. 82) and asserts that different interjections are located at different places in this continuum. Argues against the view that interjections have semantic or conceptual content; rather, they “communicate attitudinal information, relating to the emotional or mental state of the speaker” (ibid.). They “are partly natural and partly coded” (ibid.) and “are not part of language” (p. 84).

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