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2nd Semester 2022/23: Iconicity, meaning, and language

Marieke Schouwstra

Dominant views on language long emphasized the arbitrary nature of linguistic signs, but in the last few decades, many linguists are starting to realise that iconicity (a relationship of resemblance between form and meaning) is more pervasive in language than previously thought.

In what ways can languages show iconic patterns? How can they be explained? What is their role in language use, language learning, language change? Should iconicity be incorporated in theories of meaning? How can we represent iconicity formally?

In this course we will focus on iconicity from various perspectives (linguistics, cognitive science, and philosophy) and focus on different methodologies (linguistic data, formal and computational modelling, and behavioural experiments) to study iconicity and its place in the analysis of human language.



The project will start with 3 introductory classes (week 1). Then, we will divide the literature so that each participant can prepare a presentation on one of the papers (week 2). Finally, each student will pitch+discuss their own idea for a paper (week 3) and hand in their paper (end of week 4).



An interest in the topic.


There will be two class presentations and an essay. Participation, in the sense of being present in class and actively contributing to the discussions, will be taken into account too.



Davidson, K. (2015). Quotation, demonstration, and iconicity. Linguistics and philosophy, 38, 477-520.

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.

Dingemanse, M., Perlman, M., & Perniss, P. (2020). Construals of iconicity: experimental approaches to form–meaning resemblances in language. Language and cognition, 12(1), 1-14.

Emmorey, K. (2014). Iconicity as structure mapping. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological sciences, 369(1651), 20130301.

Haspelmath, M. (2008). Frequency vs. iconicity in explaining grammatical asymmetries.

Meir, I., & Tkachman, O. (2018). Iconicity. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics.

Lupyan, G., & Winter, B. (2018). Language is more abstract than you think, or, why aren't languages more iconic?. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 373(1752), 20170137.

Motamedi, Y., Little, H., Nielsen, A., & Sulik, J. (2019). The iconicity toolbox: empirical approaches to measuring iconicity. Language and Cognition, 11(2), 188-207.

Occhino, C., Anible, B., Wilkinson, E., & Morford, J. P. (2017). Iconicity is in the eye of the beholder: How language experience affects perceived iconicity. Gesture, 16(1), 100-126.

Perniss, P., & Vigliocco, G. (2014). The bridge of iconicity: from a world of experience to the experience of language. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369(1651), 20130300.

Schlenker, P., Lamberton, J., & Santoro, M. (2013). Iconic variables. Linguistics and philosophy, 36, 91-149.

Wiese, H. (2003). Iconic and non-iconic stages in number development: The role of language. Trends in cognitive sciences, 7(9), 385-390.