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Article

Acquisition of Inflection in Romance Languages  

Christophe Parisse

Inflection is present in all Romance languages, even if at times it can be replaced by the use of clitic elements. It is therefore a crucial feature of the language for children to acquire. The acquisition of inflected forms was studied in the nominal, verbal, and adjectival systems because it is present from the very first forms produced by children. Data are presented from the literature for six languages: Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, Italian, and Romanian. For all these languages, there exist open access corpus data available on the CHILDES website, which make it possible to have first-hand access to actual spoken data for these languages. Results show that children produce correct forms very early on for the most frequent grammatical elements (by age 2 for most children, but sometimes as early as age 18 months). This includes the use of nouns and determiners in both genders, and the use of verbs in the present, perfect, and imperative forms. Verbs are produced first in the third person, followed by the other persons. Nouns and verbs are used in the singular form before being used in the plural form. Other more complex grammatical forms, such as, for example, the imperfective past tense or the present conditional, emerge only later, and this is probably related to the semantics of the forms rather than their complexity. In most cases, there is correct agreement between noun and determiner, or verb and personal pronoun, or noun and verb. Errors are infrequent, and the nature of the errors can be used as means to study the mechanisms of language acquisition.

Article

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory  

John Archibald

The distinction between representations and processes is central to most models of the cognitive science of language. Linguistic theory informs the types of representations assumed, and these representations are what are taken to be the targets of second language acquisition. Epistemologically, this is often taken to be knowledge, or knowledge-that. Techniques such as Grammaticality Judgment tasks are paradigmatic as we seek to gain insight into what a learner’s grammar looks like. Learners behave as if certain phonological, morphological, or syntactic strings (which may or may not be target-like) were well-formed. It is the task of the researcher to understand the nature of the knowledge that governs those well-formedness beliefs. Traditional accounts of processing, on the other hand, look to the real-time use of language, either in production or perception, and invoke discussions of skill or knowledge-how. A range of experimental psycholinguistic techniques have been used to assess these skills: self-paced reading, eye-tracking, ERPs, priming, lexical decision, AXB discrimination, and the like. Such online measures can show us how we “do” language when it comes to activities such as production or comprehension. There has long been a connection between linguistic theory and theories of processing as evidenced by the work of Berwick (The Grammatical Basis of Linguistic Performance). The task of the parser is to assign abstract structure to a phonological, morphological, or syntactic string; structure that does not come directly labeled in the acoustic input. Such processing studies as the Garden Path phenomenon have revealed that grammaticality and processability are distinct constructs. In some models, however, the distinction between grammar and processing is less distinct. Phillips says that “parsing is grammar,” while O’Grady builds an emergentist theory with no grammar, only processing. Bayesian models of acquisition, and indeed of knowledge, assume that the grammars we set up are governed by a principle of entropy, which governs other aspects of human behavior; knowledge and skill are combined. Exemplar models view the processing of the input as a storing of all phonetic detail that is in the environment, not storing abstract categories; the categories emerge via a process of comparing exemplars. Linguistic theory helps us to understand the processing of input to acquire new L2 representations, and the access of those representations in real time.

Article

Penutian Languages  

Anthony P. Grant

The Penutian language family, Penutian phylum, or better still, Penutian hypothesis is one of the largest genealogical linguistic groupings to have been proposed for western North America. It involves 16 families or isolates. Only a few of these families are demonstrably relatable to one another according to current knowledge and diachronic techniques. Sometimes Penutian is split by observers into groups of languages assumed to be interrelated, and this is done without assumptions that the groups themselves are interrelated. This article focuses on the Canadian and US languages in “Sapir’s Penutian,” the most commonly accepted version; the most southerly family within Penutian is thus held as Yokutsan of California’s Sierra Nevada. It discusses the subclassification of the so-called Penutian languages into families and smaller units; aspects of their phonology, morphosyntax, and contact histories; and issues in their revitalization and the potential reconstruction of Proto-Penutian.

Article

Languages of the World  

William R. Leben

About 7,000 languages are spoken around the world today. The actual number depends on where the line is drawn between language and dialect—an arbitrary decision, because languages are always in flux. But specialists applying a reasonably uniform criterion across the globe count well over 2,000 languages in Asia and Africa, while Europe has just shy of 300. In between are the Pacific region, with over 1,300 languages, and the Americas, with just over 1,000. Languages spoken natively by over a million speakers number around 250, but the vast majority have very few speakers. Something like half are thought likely to disappear over the next few decades, as speakers of endangered languages turn to more widely spoken ones. The languages of the world are grouped into perhaps 430 language families, based on their origin, as determined by comparing similarities among languages and deducing how they evolved from earlier ones. As with languages, there’s quite a lot of disagreement about the number of language families, reflecting our meager knowledge of many present-day languages and even sparser knowledge of their history. The figure 430 comes from Glottolog.org, which actually lists them all. While the world’s language families may well go back to a smaller number of original languages, even to a single mother tongue, scholars disagree on how far back current methods permit us to trace the history of languages. While it is normal for languages to borrow from other languages, occasionally a totally new language is created by mixing elements of two distinct languages to such a degree that we would not want to identify one of the source languages as the mother tongue. This is what led to the development of Media Lengua, a language of Ecuador formed through contact among speakers of Spanish and speakers of Quechua. In this language, practically all the word stems are from Spanish, while all of the endings are from Quechua. Just a handful of languages have come into being in this way, but less extreme forms of language mixture have resulted in over a hundred pidgins and creoles currently spoken in many parts of the world. Most arose during Europe’s colonial era, when European colonists used their language to communicate with local inhabitants, who in turn blended vocabulary from the European language with grammar largely from their native language. Also among the languages of the world are about 300 sign languages used mainly in communicating among and with the deaf. The structure of sign languages typically has little historical connection to the structure of nearby spoken languages. Some languages have been constructed expressly, often by a single individual, to meet communication demands among speakers with no common language. Esperanto, designed to serve as a universal language and used as a second language by some two million, according to some estimates, is the prime example, but it is only one among several hundred would-be international auxiliary languages. This essay surveys the languages of the world continent by continent, ending with descriptions of sign languages and of pidgins and creoles. A set of references grouped by section appears at the very end. The main source for data on language classification, numbers of languages, and speakers is the 19th edition of Ethnologue (see Resources), except where a different source is cited.

Article

Second Language Acquisition of Japanese  

Masahiko Minami

Empirical and theoretical research on language has recently experienced a period of extensive growth. Unfortunately, however, in the case of the Japanese language, far fewer studies—particularly those written in English—have been presented on adult second language (L2) learners and bilingual children. As the field develops, it is increasingly important to integrate theoretical concepts and empirical research findings in second language acquisition (SLA) of Japanese, so that the concepts and research can be eventually applied to educational practice. This article attempts to: (a) address at least some of the gaps currently existing in the literature, (b) deal with important topics to the extent possible, and (c) discuss various problems with regard to adult learners of Japanese as an L2 and English–Japanese bilingual children. Specifically, the article first examines the characteristics of the Japanese language. Tracing the history of SLA studies, this article then deliberately touches on a wide spectrum of domains of linguistic knowledge (e.g., phonology and phonetics, morphology, lexicon, semantics, syntax, discourse), context of language use (e.g., interactive conversation, narrative), research orientations (e.g., formal linguistics, psycholinguistics, social psychology, sociolinguistics), and age groups (e.g., children, adults). Finally, by connecting past SLA research findings in English and recent/present concerns in Japanese as SLA with a focus on the past 10 years including corpus linguistics, this article provides the reader with an overview of the field of Japanese linguistics and its critical issues.

Article

Korean Syntax  

James Hye Suk Yoon

The syntax of Korean is characterized by several signature properties. One signature property is head-finality. Word order variations and restrictions obey head-finality. Korean also possesses wh in-situ as well as internally headed relative clauses, as is typical of a head-final language. Another major signature property is dependent-marking. Korean has systematic case-marking on nominal dependents and very little, if any, head-marking. Case-marking and related issues, such as multiple case constructions, case alternations, case stacking, case-marker ellipsis, and case-marking on adjuncts, are front and center properties of Korean syntax as viewed from the dependent-marking perspective. Research on these aspects of Korean has contributed to the theoretical understanding of case and grammatical relations in linguistic theory. Korean is also characterized by agglutinative morphosyntax. Many issues in Korean syntax straddle the morphology-syntax boundary. Korean morphosyntax constitutes a fertile testing ground for ongoing debates about the relationship between morphology and syntax in domains such as coordination, deverbal nominalizations (mixed category constructions), copula, and other denominal constructions. Head-finality and agglutinative morphosyntax intersect in domains such as complex/serial verb and auxiliary verb constructions. Negation, which is a type of auxiliary verb construction, and the related phenomena of negative polarity licensing, offer important evidence for crosslinguistic understanding of these phenomena. Finally, there is an aspect of Korean syntax that reflects areal contact. Lexical and grammatical borrowing, topic prominence, pervasive occurrence of null arguments and ellipsis, as well as a complex system of anaphoric expressions, resulted from sustained contact with neighboring Sino-Tibetan languages.

Article

The Acquisition of Color Words  

Katie Wagner and David Barner

Human experience of color results from a complex interplay of perceptual and linguistic systems. At the lowest level of perception, the human visual system transforms the visible light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum into a rich, continuous three-dimensional experience of color. Despite our ability to perceptually discriminate millions of different color shades, most languages categorize color into a number of discrete color categories. While the meanings of color words are constrained by perception, perception does not fully define them. Once color words are acquired, they may in turn influence our memory and processing speed for color, although it is unlikely that language influences the lowest levels of color perception. One approach to examining the relationship between perception and language in forming our experience of color is to study children as they acquire color language. Children produce color words in speech for many months before acquiring adult meanings for color words. Research in this area has focused on whether children’s difficulties stem from (a) an inability to identify color properties as a likely candidate for word meanings, or alternatively (b) inductive learning of language-specific color word boundaries. Lending plausibility to the first account, there is evidence that children more readily attend to object traits like shape, rather than color, as likely candidates for word meanings. However, recent evidence has found that children have meanings for some color words before they begin to produce them in speech, indicating that in fact, they may be able to successfully identify color as a candidate for word meaning early in the color word learning process. There is also evidence that prelinguistic infants, like adults, perceive color categorically. While these perceptual categories likely constrain the meanings that children consider, they cannot fully define color word meanings because languages vary in both the number and location of color word boundaries. Recent evidence suggests that the delay in color word acquisition primarily stems from an inductive process of refining these boundaries.

Article

Second Language Phonetics  

Ocke-Schwen Bohn

The study of second language phonetics is concerned with three broad and overlapping research areas: the characteristics of second language speech production and perception, the consequences of perceiving and producing nonnative speech sounds with a foreign accent, and the causes and factors that shape second language phonetics. Second language learners and bilinguals typically produce and perceive the sounds of a nonnative language in ways that are different from native speakers. These deviations from native norms can be attributed largely, but not exclusively, to the phonetic system of the native language. Non-nativelike speech perception and production may have both social consequences (e.g., stereotyping) and linguistic–communicative consequences (e.g., reduced intelligibility). Research on second language phonetics over the past ca. 30 years has resulted in a fairly good understanding of causes of nonnative speech production and perception, and these insights have to a large extent been driven by tests of the predictions of models of second language speech learning and of cross-language speech perception. It is generally accepted that the characteristics of second language speech are predominantly due to how second language learners map the sounds of the nonnative to the native language. This mapping cannot be entirely predicted from theoretical or acoustic comparisons of the sound systems of the languages involved, but has to be determined empirically through tests of perceptual assimilation. The most influential learner factors which shape how a second language is perceived and produced are the age of learning and the amount and quality of exposure to the second language. A very important and far-reaching finding from research on second language phonetics is that age effects are not due to neurological maturation which could result in the attrition of phonetic learning ability, but to the way phonetic categories develop as a function of experience with surrounding sound systems.

Article

Functional Word Acquisition in Mandarin Chinese  

Xiaolu Yang

Functional categories carry little or no semantic content by themselves and contribute crucially to sentence structure. In the generative framework, they are assumed to mark and head functional projections in the basic hierarchical structure underlying each phrase or sentence. Given their intertwining with grammar, child language researchers have long been attracted by the development of functional categories. To a child, it is important to differentiate functional categories from lexical categories and relate each of them to the hidden hierarchical structure of the phrase or sentence. The learning of a functional category is no easy task and implies the development of different dimensions of linguistic knowledge, including the lexical realization of the functional category in the ambient language, the specific grammatical function it serves, the abstract underlying structure, and the semantic properties of the associated structure. A central issue in the acquisition of functional categories concerns whether children have access to functional categories early in language development. Differing accounts have been proposed. According to the maturational view, functional categories are absent in children’s initial grammar and mature later. In contrast to the maturational view is the continuity view, which assumes children’s continuous access to functional categories throughout language development. Cross-linguistic evidence from production and experimental studies has been accumulated in support of the continuity hypothesis. Mandarin Chinese has a rich inventory of function words, though it lacks overt inflectional markers. De, aspect markers, ba, and sentence final particles are among the most commonly used function words and play a fundamental role in sentence structure in Mandarin Chinese in that they are functional categories that head various functional projections in the hierarchical structure. Acquisition studies show that these function words emerge early in development and children’s use of these function words is mostly target-like, offering evidence for the continuity view of functional categories as well as insights into child grammar in Mandarin Chinese.

Article

Psycholinguistic Methods and Tasks in Morphology  

Daniel Schmidtke and Victor Kuperman

Lexical representations in an individual mind are not given to direct scrutiny. Thus, in their theorizing of mental representations, researchers must rely on observable and measurable outcomes of language processing, that is, perception, production, storage, access, and retrieval of lexical information. Morphological research pursues these questions utilizing the full arsenal of analytical tools and experimental techniques that are at the disposal of psycholinguistics. This article outlines the most popular approaches, and aims to provide, for each technique, a brief overview of its procedure in experimental practice. Additionally, the article describes the link between the processing effect(s) that the tool can elicit and the representational phenomena that it may shed light on. The article discusses methods of morphological research in the two major human linguistic faculties—production and comprehension—and provides a separate treatment of spoken, written and sign language.

Article

Neurolinguistic Research on the Romance Languages  

Valentina Bambini and Paolo Canal

Neurolinguistics is devoted to the study of the language-brain relationship, using the methodologies of neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience to investigate how linguistic categories are grounded in the brain. Although the brain infrastructure for language is invariable across cultures, neural networks might operate differently depending on language-specific features. In this respect, neurolinguistic research on the Romance languages, mostly French, Italian, and Spanish, proved key to progress the field, especially with specific reference to how the neural infrastructure for language works in the case of more richly inflected systems than English. Among the most popular domains of investigation are agreement patterns, where studies on Spanish and Italian showed that agreement across features and domains (e.g., number or gender agreement) engages partially different neural substrates. Also, studies measuring the electrophysiological response suggested that agreement processing is a composite mechanism involving different temporal steps. Another domain is the noun-verb distinction, where studies on the Romance languages indicated that the brain is more sensitive to the greater morphosyntactic engagement of verbs compared with nouns rather than to the grammatical class distinction per se. Concerning language disorders, the Romance languages shed new light on inflectional errors in aphasic speakers and contributed to revise the notion of agrammatism, which is not simply omission of morphemes but might involve incorrect substitution from the inflectional paradigm. Also, research in the Romance domain showed variation in degree and pattern of reading impairments due to language-specific segmental and suprasegmental features. Despite these important contributions, the Romance family, with its multitude of languages and dialects and a richly documented diachronic evolution, is a still underutilized ‘treasure house’ for neurolinguistic research, with significant room for investigations exploring the brain signatures of language variation in time and space and refining the linking between linguistic categories and neurobiological primitives.

Article

Acquisition of Pragmatics  

Myrto Grigoroglou and Anna Papafragou

To become competent communicators, children need to learn that what a speaker means often goes beyond the literal meaning of what the speaker says. The acquisition of pragmatics as a field is the study of how children learn to bridge the gap between the semantic meaning of words and structures and the intended meaning of an utterance. Of interest is whether young children are capable of reasoning about others’ intentions and how this ability develops over time. For a long period, estimates of children’s pragmatic sophistication were mostly pessimistic: early work on a number of phenomena showed that very young communicators were egocentric, oblivious to other interlocutors’ intentions, and overall insensitive to subtle pragmatic aspects of interpretation. Recent years have seen major shifts in the study of children’s pragmatic development. Novel methods and more fine-grained theoretical approaches have led to a reconsideration of older findings on how children acquire pragmatics across a number of phenomena and have produced a wealth of new evidence and theories. Three areas that have generated a considerable body of developmental work on pragmatics include reference (the relation between words or phrases and entities in the world), implicature (a type of inferred meaning that arises when a speaker violates conversational rules), and metaphor (a case of figurative language). Findings from these three domains suggest that children actively use pragmatic reasoning to delimit potential referents for newly encountered words, can take into account the perspective of a communicative partner, and are sensitive to some aspects of implicated and metaphorical meaning. Nevertheless, children’s success with pragmatic communication is fragile and task-dependent.

Article

Neurolinguistic Approaches in Morphology  

Niels O. Schiller

Neurolinguistic approaches to morphology include the main theories of morphological representation and processing in the human mind, such as full-listing, full-parsing, and hybrid dual-route models, and how the experimental evidence that has been acquired to support these theories uses different neurolinguistic paradigms (visual and auditory priming, violation, long-lag priming, picture-word interference, etc.) and methods (electroencephalography [EEG]/event-related brain potential [ERP], functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI], neuropsychology, and so forth).

Article

Japanese Psycholinguistics  

Mineharu Nakayama

The Japanese psycholinguistics research field is moving rapidly in many different directions as it includes various sub-linguistics fields (e.g., phonetics/phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, discourse studies). Naturally, diverse studies have reported intriguing findings that shed light on our language mechanism. This article presents a brief overview of some of the notable early 21st century studies mainly from the language acquisition and processing perspectives. The topics are divided into various sections: the sound system, the script forms, reading and writing, morpho-syntactic studies, word and sentential meanings, and pragmatics and discourse studies sections. Studies on special populations are also mentioned. Studies on the Japanese sound system have advanced our understanding of L1 and L2 (first and second language) acquisition and processing. For instance, more evidence is provided that infants form adult-like phonological grammar by 14 months in L1, and disassociation of prosody is reported from one’s comprehension in L2. Various cognitive factors as well as L1 influence the L2 acquisition process. As the Japanese language users employ three script forms (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) in a single sentence, orthographic processing research reveal multiple pathways to process information and the influence of memory. Adult script decoding and lexical processing has been well studied and research data from special populations further helps us to understand our vision-to-language mapping mechanism. Morpho-syntactic and semantic studies include a long debate on the nativist (generative) and statistical learning approaches in L1 acquisition. In particular, inflectional morphology and quantificational scope interaction in L1 acquisition bring pros and cons of both approaches as a single approach. Investigating processing mechanisms means studying cognitive/perceptual devices. Relative clause processing has been well-discussed in Japanese because Japanese has a different word order (SOV) from English (SVO), allows unpronounced pronouns and pre-verbal word permutations, and has no relative clause marking at the verbal ending (i.e., morphologically the same as the matrix ending). Behavioral and neurolinguistic data increasingly support incremental processing like SVO languages and an expectancy-driven processor in our L1 brain. L2 processing, however, requires more study to uncover its mechanism, as the literature is scarce in both L2 English by Japanese speakers and L2 Japanese by non-Japanese speakers. Pragmatic and discourse processing is also an area that needs to be explored further. Despite the typological difference between English and Japanese, the studies cited here indicate that our acquisition and processing devices seem to adjust locally while maintaining the universal mechanism.

Article

Innateness of Language  

Yarden Kedar

A fundamental question in epistemological philosophy is whether reason may be based on a priori knowledge—that is, knowledge that precedes and which is independent of experience. In modern science, the concept of innateness has been associated with particular behaviors and types of knowledge, which supposedly have been present in the organism since birth (in fact, since fertilization)—prior to any sensory experience with the environment. This line of investigation has been traditionally linked to two general types of qualities: the first consists of instinctive and inflexible reflexes, traits, and behaviors, which are apparent in survival, mating, and rearing activities. The other relates to language and cognition, with certain concepts, ideas, propositions, and particular ways of mental computation suggested to be part of one’s biological make-up. While both these types of innatism have a long history (e.g., debate by Plato and Descartes), some bias appears to exist in favor of claims for inherent behavioral traits, which are typically accepted when satisfactory empirical evidence is provided. One famous example is Lorenz’s demonstration of imprinting, a natural phenomenon that obeys a predetermined mechanism and schedule (incubator-hatched goslings imprinted on Lorenz’s boots, the first moving object they encountered). Likewise, there seems to be little controversy in regard to predetermined ways of organizing sensory information, as is the case with the detection and classification of shapes and colors by the mind. In contrast, the idea that certain types of abstract knowledge may be part of an organism’s biological endowment (i.e., not learned) is typically met with a greater sense of skepticism. The most influential and controversial claim for such innate knowledge in modern science is Chomsky’s nativist theory of Universal Grammar in language, which aims to define the extent to which human languages can vary; and the famous Argument from the Poverty of the Stimulus. The main Chomskyan hypothesis is that all human beings share a preprogrammed linguistic infrastructure consisting of a finite set of general principles, which can generate (through combination or transformation) an infinite number of (only) grammatical sentences. Thus, the innate grammatical system constrains and structures the acquisition and use of all natural languages.

Article

Connectionism in Linguistic Theory  

Xiaowei Zhao

Connectionism is an important theoretical framework for the study of human cognition and behavior. Also known as Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) or Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), connectionism advocates that learning, representation, and processing of information in mind are parallel, distributed, and interactive in nature. It argues for the emergence of human cognition as the outcome of large networks of interactive processing units operating simultaneously. Inspired by findings from neural science and artificial intelligence, connectionism is a powerful computational tool, and it has had profound impact on many areas of research, including linguistics. Since the beginning of connectionism, many connectionist models have been developed to account for a wide range of important linguistic phenomena observed in monolingual research, such as speech perception, speech production, semantic representation, and early lexical development in children. Recently, the application of connectionism to bilingual research has also gathered momentum. Connectionist models are often precise in the specification of modeling parameters and flexible in the manipulation of relevant variables in the model to address relevant theoretical questions, therefore they can provide significant advantages in testing mechanisms underlying language processes.

Article

Psycholinguistic Research on Inflectional Morphology in the Romance Languages  

Claudia Marzi and Vito Pirrelli

Over the past decades, psycholinguistic aspects of word processing have made a considerable impact on views of language theory and language architecture. In the quest for the principles governing the ways human speakers perceive, store, access, and produce words, inflection issues have provided a challenging realm of scientific inquiry, and a battlefield for radically opposing views. It is somewhat ironic that some of the most influential cognitive models of inflection have long been based on evidence from an inflectionally impoverished language like English, where the notions of inflectional regularity, (de)composability, predictability, phonological complexity, and default productivity appear to be mutually implied. An analysis of more “complex” inflection systems such as those of Romance languages shows that this mutual implication is not a universal property of inflection, but a contingency of poorly contrastive, nearly isolating inflection systems. Far from presenting minor faults in a solid, theoretical edifice, Romance evidence appears to call into question the subdivision of labor between rules and exceptions, the on-line processing vs. long-term memory dichotomy, and the distinction between morphological processes and lexical representations. A dynamic, learning-based view of inflection is more compatible with this data, whereby morphological structure is an emergent property of the ways inflected forms are processed and stored, grounded in universal principles of lexical self-organization and their neuro-functional correlates.

Article

Discriminative Learning and the Lexicon: NDL and LDL  

Yu-Ying Chuang and R. Harald Baayen

Naive discriminative learning (NDL) and linear discriminative learning (LDL) are simple computational algorithms for lexical learning and lexical processing. Both NDL and LDL assume that learning is discriminative, driven by prediction error, and that it is this error that calibrates the association strength between input and output representations. Both words’ forms and their meanings are represented by numeric vectors, and mappings between forms and meanings are set up. For comprehension, form vectors predict meaning vectors. For production, meaning vectors map onto form vectors. These mappings can be learned incrementally, approximating how children learn the words of their language. Alternatively, optimal mappings representing the end state of learning can be estimated. The NDL and LDL algorithms are incorporated in a computational theory of the mental lexicon, the ‘discriminative lexicon’. The model shows good performance both with respect to production and comprehension accuracy, and for predicting aspects of lexical processing, including morphological processing, across a wide range of experiments. Since, mathematically, NDL and LDL implement multivariate multiple regression, the ‘discriminative lexicon’ provides a cognitively motivated statistical modeling approach to lexical processing.

Article

Iconicity  

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.