Iconicity is a relationship of resemblance or similarity between the two aspects of a sign: its form and its meaning. An iconic sign is one whose form resembles its meaning in some way. The opposite of iconicity is arbitrariness. In an arbitrary sign, the association between form and meaning is based solely on convention; there is nothing in the form of the sign that resembles aspects of its meaning. The Hindu-Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3 are arbitrary, because their current form does not correlate to any aspect of their meaning. In contrast, the Roman numerals I, II, III are iconic, because the number of occurrences of the sign I correlates with the quantity that the numerals represent. Because iconicity has to do with the properties of signs in general and not only those of linguistic signs, it plays an important role in the field of semiotics—the study of signs and signaling. However, language is the most pervasive symbolic communicative system used by humans, and the notion of iconicity plays an important role in characterizing the linguistic sign and linguistic systems. Iconicity is also central to the study of literary uses of language, such as prose and poetry. There are various types of iconicity: the form of a sign may resemble aspects of its meaning in several ways: it may create a mental image of the concept (imagic iconicity), or its structure and the arrangement of its elements may resemble the structural relationship between components of the concept represented (diagrammatic iconicity). An example of the first type is the word cuckoo, whose sounds resemble the call of the bird, or a sign such as RABBIT in Israeli Sign Language, whose form—the hands representing the rabbit's long ears—resembles a visual property of that animal. An example of diagrammatic iconicity is vēnī, vīdī, vīcī, where the order of clauses in a discourse is understood as reflecting the sequence of events in the world. Iconicity is found on all linguistic levels: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and discourse. It is found both in spoken languages and in sign languages. However, sign languages, because of the visual-gestural modality through which they are transmitted, are much richer in iconic devices, and therefore offer a rich array of topics and perspectives for investigating iconicity, and the interaction between iconicity and language structure.
Irit Meir and Oksana Tkachman
Onomasiology represents an approach in semantics that takes the perspective from content to form and investigates the ways in which referents or concepts are designated in particular languages. In this way, onomasiology can be seen as being complementary to semasiology, which takes the opposite perspective and focuses on form-content relations. From a semiotic perspective, the two perspectives can be more clearly defined and delimited from each other by specifying the basic semiotic entities that represent the key reference points for onomasiological and semasiological investigations, respectively. Previous research has highlighted the contribution of both to a comprehensive understanding of lexical semantics. In this respect, the distinction between meaning change and change of designation appears to be of key importance for the domain of lexical innovation and change. In the history of Romance linguistics, onomasiological perspectives were included in early etymological studies (e.g., Diez, Salvioni, Tappolet, Merlo), and the term “onomasiology” was introduced by Zauner. The research on “Wörter and Sachen” (words and objects), and the research focus on lexical fields then took an explicit focus on onomasiological research questions, with linguistic geography established as a specific subdomain of linguistic research. The linguistic maps and atlases elaborated in this context provided important resources for multiple applications and theoretical discussions of synchronic and diachronic issues of Romance linguistics. In addition, various onomasiological case studies on particular concepts and conceptual domains were conducted, and onomasiological dictionaries elaborated. Moreover, linguistic typology has aimed to identify universal patterns of conceptualization and strategies of designation. With the rise of cognitive semantics, the synchronic relevance of onomasiology has been reinvigorated, as many basic approaches and concepts developed in this framework are inherently based on an onomasiological perspective. Bringing together typological considerations and cognitive semantics, and linking these approaches to the achievements of the prestructuralist and structuralist traditions, diachronic cognitive onomasiology opens up multiple perspectives for further research in lexical semantics. Finally, the potential of onomasiological investigations has also gained interest in language contact research, where issues of borrowability as well as semantic and pragmatic patterns of linguistic borrowing have been studied. A broad range of further research perspectives arises from the focus on the language users and their communicative intentions, these perspectives being strongly linked to the usage-based turn in cognitive linguistics as well as to investigations at the semantics-pragmatics interface.