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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In functional-cognitive linguistics, as well as in semiotics, iconicity is the conceived similarity or analogy between the form of a sign (linguistic or otherwise) and its meaning, as opposed to arbitrariness.

Iconic principles:

  • Quantity principle: conceptual complexity corresponds to formal complexity
  • Proximity principle: conceptual distance tends to match with linguistic distance
  • Sequential order principle: the sequential order of events described is mirrored in the speech chain

Vowel magnitude

"mal" and "mil" experiment by Sapir

Vowel magnitude relationships suggest that, the larger the object, the more likely its name has open vowels such as /ɒ/, /eɪ/, and /æ/; the smaller the object, the more likely its name has closed vowel sounds such as /iː/, /ʊ/, and /juː/. Open vowel sounds are also more likely to be associated with round shapes and dark or gloomy moods, where closed vowel sounds are more likely to be associated with pointed shapes and happy moods.

A test run by Edward Sapir asked subjects to differentiate between two different sized tables using invented word pairs such as "mal" and "mil". He discovered a word containing [a] was at four times more likely to be judged as larger if paired with a word containing [i]. Nuckolls states: "Newman discovered that ... as the tongue recedes in articulating vowels from the front to the back of the mouth, and as acoustic frequencies become lower, the vowels are judged to be larger and darker". Bentley and Varron (1933) ran tests asking subjects to differentiate between vowel sounds without providing them, beforehand, contrasting attributes (such as bright and dark.) They found only moderate success rates that decreased when vowel sounds were closer in tone. However, they still found that Template:IPA sounds were judged larger or lower than Template:IPA sounds.

In morphology, examples from degree adjectives, such as long, longer, longest, show that the most extreme degree of length is iconically represented by the word with the greatest number of phonemes. Jakobson cites examples of word order mimicking the natural order of ideas. In fact, iconicity is now widely acknowledged to be a significant factor at many levels of linguistic structure.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Iconicity" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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