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The Origins of Arbitrariness in Language



Human language exhibits mainly arbitrary relationships between the forms and meanings of words. Why would this be so? In this paper I argue that arbitrariness becomes necessary as the number of words increases. I also discuss the effectiveness of competitive learning for acquiring lexicons that are arbitrary in this sense. Finally, I consider some implications of this perspective for arbitrariness and iconicity in language acquisition. A Language Design Task Imagine you are inventing a language. It should associate signals (“forms”) that can be produced and perceived by the users of the language with perceptual or motor categories (“meanings”). Assume that both forms and meanings are patterns of values across sets of dimension

Year: 2011
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