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Arbitrariness, iconicity, and systematicity in language

By Mark Dingemanse, Damian E. Blasi, Gary Lupyan, Morten H. Christiansen and Padraic Monaghan


The notion that the form of a word bears an arbitrary relation to its meaning accounts only partly for the attested relations between form and meaning in the languages of the world. Recent research suggests a more textured view of vocabulary structure, in which arbitrariness is complemented by iconicity (aspects of form resemble aspects of meaning) and systematicity (statistical regularities in forms predict function). Experimental evidence suggests these form-to-meaning correspondences serve different functions in language processing, development, and communication: systematicity facilitates category learning by means of phonological cues, iconicity facilitates word learning and communication by means of perceptuomotor analogies, and arbitrariness facilitates meaning individuation through distinctive forms. Processes of cultural evolution help to explain how these competing motivations shape vocabulary structure

Year: 2015
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.013
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Provided by: Lancaster E-Prints

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