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Arbitrariness, iconicity and systematicity in language

Dingemanse, M., Blasi, D. E., Lupyan, G., Christiansen, M. H., & Monaghan, P. (2015). Arbitrariness, iconicity and systematicity in language. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(10), 603-615. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.013.
The notion that the form of a word bears an arbitrary relation to its meaning accounts only partly for the attested form to meaning correspondences in the world’s languages. Recent research suggests a more textured view of vocabulary structure, in which arbitrariness is complemented by iconicity (aspects of form resemble aspects of meaning) and systematicity (statistical regularities in forms predict function). Experimental evidence suggests these form to meaning correspondences serve different functions in language processing, development and communication: systematicity facilities category learning by means of phonological cues, iconicity facilitates word learning and communication by means of perceptuomotor analogies, and arbitrariness facilitates meaning individuation through distinctive forms. Processes of cultural evolution help explain how these competing motivations shape vocabulary structure.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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