Finding iconicity in spoken languages

Have you ever wondered why we call a dog a dog and not a cat? Is this an arbitrary decision, or is it based on iconicity—the resemblance between word structure and meaning? New research shows that for Indo-European languages, like English and Spanish, iconicity is more common than previously believed.

The results are important for understanding the nature of human language, explains Lynn Perry, assistant professor of psychology in the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences and co-lead author of the study.

“Many linguists are trained to believe that languages are arbitrary.” Perry said. “But sometimes what we as scientists accept as fact leads us to miss out the rich details of experiences,” she said. “We treat learning as this impossibly difficult process because we assume languages are completely arbitrary, but it turns out there’s a lot of structure and information in the language itself that could be making learning easier.”

The study is the first to show that iconicity is prevalent across the vocabulary of a spoken language, explained Marcus Perlman, postdoctoral research associate in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Psychology and co-lead author of the study.

Read more: phys.org

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