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Wolfgang U. Dressler

Natural Morphology (NM) is a functionalist theory that aims to account for morphological preferences on the basis of extralinguistic motivations. It is hierarchically structured in three (partially conflicting) subtheories. The first subtheory of universal naturalness (markedness) focuses on cognitive and semiotic principles such as transparency, iconicity, and bi-uniqueness, which are modeled in terms of parametric relations. Within the second subtheory of typological naturalness (or adequacy), choices on the universal preference parameters are coordinated among themselves. The third subtheory of language-specific naturalness (also called language adequacy) elaborates on what is normal in the potential system of a specific language. NM also puts special emphasis on the interface of morphology with other linguistic and nonlinguistic components, opening thereby the new fields of morphopragmatics, morphonotactics (as a special part of morphonology), and extragrammatical morphology. A range of gradual clines are designed to assess not only transitions between adjacent components of grammar, but also within morphology between compounding, derivation, and inflection and for notions such as regularity–subregularity–irregularity/suppletion, degrees of productivity or number of headedness criteria. Theoretical constructs are supported by ample external evidence, especially from diachrony and psycholinguistics.


Irit Meir and Oksana Tkachman

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.


Elizabeth Closs Traugott

Traditional approaches to semantic change typically focus on outcomes of meaning change and list types of change such as metaphoric and metonymic extension, broadening and narrowing, and the development of positive and negative meanings. Examples are usually considered out of context, and are lexical members of nominal and adjectival word classes. However, language is a communicative activity that is highly dependent on context, whether that of the ongoing discourse or of social and ideological changes. Much recent work on semantic change has focused, not on results of change, but on pragmatic enabling factors for change in the flow of speech. Attention has been paid to the contributions of cognitive processes, such as analogical thinking, production of cues as to how a message is to be interpreted, and perception or interpretation of meaning, especially in grammaticalization. Mechanisms of change such as metaphorization, metonymization, and subjectification have been among topics of special interest and debate. The work has been enabled by the fine-grained approach to contextual data that electronic corpora allow.