Iconicity, a resemblance between properties of linguistic form (both in spoken and signed languages) and meaning, has traditionally been considered to be a marginal, irrelevant phenomenon for our understanding of language processing, development and evolution. Rather, the arbitrary and symbolic nature of language has long been taken as a design feature of the human linguistic system. In this paper, we propose an alternative framework in which iconicity in face-to-face communication (spoken and signed) is a powerful vehicle for bridging between language and human sensori-motor experience, and, as such, iconicity provides a key to understanding language evolution, development and processing. In language evolution, iconicity might have played a key role in establishing displacement (the ability of language to refer beyond what is immediately present), which is core to what language does; in ontogenesis, iconicity might play a critical role in supporting referentiality (learning to map linguistic labels to objects, events, etc., in the world), which is core to vocabulary development. Finally, in language processing, iconicity could provide a mechanism to account for how language comes to be embodied (grounded in our sensory and motor systems), which is core to meaningful communication.
|Journal||Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences|
|Publication status||Published - 4 Aug 2014|