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
Marcin Kilarski and Marc Allassonnière-Tang
Classifiers are partly grammaticalized systems of classification of nominal referents. The choice of a classifier can be based on such criteria as animacy, sex, material, and function as well as physical properties such as shape, size, and consistency. Such meanings are expressed by free or bound morphemes in a variety of morphosyntactic contexts, on the basis of which particular subtypes of classifiers are distinguished. These include the most well-known numeral classifiers which occur with numerals or quantifiers, as in Mandarin Chinese yí liàng chē (one clf.vehicle car) ‘one car’. The other types of classifiers are found in contexts other than quantification (noun classifiers), in possessive constructions (possessive classifiers), in verbs (verbal classifiers), as well as with deictics (deictic classifiers) and in locative phrases (locative classifiers). Classifiers are found in languages of diverse typological profiles, ranging from the analytic languages of Southeast Asia and Oceania to the polysynthetic languages of the Americas. Classifiers are also found in other modalities (i.e., sign languages and writing systems). Along with grammatical gender, classifiers constitute one of the two main types of nominal classification. Although classifiers and gender differ in some ways, with the presence of a classifier not being reflected in agreement (i.e., the form of associated words), in others they exhibit common patterns. Thus, both types of nominal classification markers contribute to the expansion of the lexicon and the organization of discourse. Shared patterns also involve common paths of evolution, as illustrated by the grammaticalization of classifier systems into gender systems. In turn, particular types of classifiers resemble various means of lexical categorization found in non-classifier languages, including measure words, class terms, as well as semantic agreement between the verb and direct object. All these three means of classification can be viewed in terms of a continuum of grammaticalization, ranging from lexical means to partly grammaticalized classifiers and to grammaticalized gender systems. Although evidence of classifiers in non-Indo-European languages has been available since the 16th century, it was only the end of the 20th century that saw a formative stage in their study. Since then, classifier systems have offered fascinating insights into the diversity of language structure, including such key phenomena as categorization, functionality, grammaticalization, and the distinction between lexicon and grammar as well as the language-internal and external factors underlying the evolution of morphosyntactic complexity.