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Bruno Galantucci

Experimental Semiotics (ES) is a burgeoning new discipline aimed at investigating in the laboratory the development of novel forms of human communication. Conceptually connected to experimental research on language use, ES provides a scientific complement to field studies of spontaneously emerging new languages and studies on the emergence of communication systems among artificial agents. ES researchers have created quite a few research paradigms to investigate the development of novel forms of human communication. Despite their diversity, these paradigms all rely on the use of semiotic games, that is, games in which people can succeed reliably only after they have developed novel communication systems. Some of these games involve creating novel signs for pre-specified meanings. These games are particularly suitable for studying relatively large communication systems and their structural properties. Other semiotic games involve establishing shared meanings as well as novel signs to communicate about them. These games are typically rather challenging and are particularly suitable for investigating the processes through which novel forms of communication are created. Considering that ES is a methodological stance rather than a well-defined research theme, researchers have used it to address a greatly heterogeneous set of research questions. Despite this, and despite the recent origins of ES, two of these questions have begun to coalesce into relatively coherent research themes. The first theme originates from the observation that novel communication systems developed in the laboratory tend to acquire features that are similar to key features of natural language. Most notably, they tend (a) to rely on the use of symbols—that is purely conventional signs—and (b) to adopt a combinatorial design, using a few basic units to express a large number of meanings. ES researchers have begun investigating some of the factors that lead to the acquisition of such features. These investigations suggest two conclusions. The first is that the emergence of symbols depends on the fact that, when repeatedly using non-symbolic signs, people tend to progressively abstract them. The second conclusion is that novel communication systems tend to adopt a combinatorial design more readily when their signs have low degrees of motivation and fade rapidly. The second research theme originates from the observation that novel communication systems developed in the laboratory tend to begin systematically with motivated—that is non-symbolic—signs. ES investigations of this tendency suggest that it occurs because motivation helps people bootstrap novel forms of communication. Put it another way, these investigations show that it is very difficult for people to bootstrap communication through arbitrary signs.


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.


Esme Winter-Froemel

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.


John E. Joseph

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), the founding figure of modern linguistics, made his mark on the field with a book he published a month after his 21st birthday, in which he proposed a radical rethinking of the original system of vowels in Proto-Indo-European. A year later, he submitted his doctoral thesis on a morpho-syntactic topic, the genitive absolute in Sanskrit, to the University of Leipzig. He went to Paris intending to do a second, French doctorate, but instead he was given responsibility for courses on Gothic and Old High Gerrman at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, and for managing the publications of the Société de Linguistique de Paris. He abandoned more than one large publication project of his own during the decade he spent in Paris. In 1891 he returned to his native Geneva, where the University created a chair in Sanskrit and the history and comparison of languages for him. He produced some significant work on Lithuanian during this period, connected to his early book on the Indo-European vowel system, and yielding Saussure’s Law, concerning the placement of stress in Lithuanian. He undertook writing projects about the general nature of language, but again abandoned them. In 1907, 1908–1909, and 1910–1911, he gave three courses in general linguistics at the University of Geneva, in which he developed an approach to languages as systems of signs, each sign consisting of a signifier (sound pattern) and a signified (concept), both of them mental rather than physical in nature, and conjoined arbitrarily and inseparably. The socially shared language system, or langue, makes possible the production and comprehension of parole, utterances, by individual speakers and hearers. Each signifier and signified is a value generated by its difference from all the other signifiers or signifieds with which it coexists on an associative (or paradigmatic) axis, and affected as well by its syntagmatic axis. Shortly after Saussure’s death at 55, two of his colleagues, Bally and Sechehaye, gathered together students’ notes from the three courses, as well as manuscript notes by Saussure, and from them constructed the Cours de linguistique générale, published in 1916. Over the course of the next several decades, this book became the basis for the structuralist approach, initially within linguistics, and later adapted to other fields. Saussure left behind a large quantity of manuscript material that has gradually been published over the last few decades, and continues to be published, shedding new light on his thought.