The De-Iconization and Rebuilding of Iconicity in Spatial Deixis

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Abstract

This paper investigates iconicity as a possible driving force behind the rebuilding of deictic systems and forms in individual languages. A comparison of a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European deictic system (based mainly on Beekes, Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction, 1995) compared with the systems of attested Indo-European languages makes it clear that both systems and forms have undergone change, may it be through sound change, analogy, and/or semantic change. Based on the assumptions by Ultan (Universals of Human Language 2, Phonology, 1978), Woodworth (1991), Traunmüller (Tongues and Texts Unlimited. Studies in Honour of Tore Jansson on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Anniversary, 1994), and Johansson and Zlatev (Motivations for Sound Symbolism in Spatial Deixis: A Typological Study of 101 languages. The Public Journal of Semiotics, 2013), iconicity obviously plays a role in the synchronic systems of spatial deixis, which in turn indicates the iconicity has played a role on the process of change, both of the forms themselves and the systems as such. Data from 13 contemporary and 17 historical languages, belonging to 12 Indo-European branches was used. Vowels and consonants were divided into voiceless sounds as being more proximal, and voiced sounds being more distal (see the explanation below). The voiced sounds were divided according to the frequency of their f2, with [i] and voiced palatal consonants as more proximal and [u] as more distal (Ohala, Sound Symbolism, 1994). Results were divided into motivated (fulfilling the expected relation between deictic form and sound value), non-motivated (arbitrary), and reversed-motivated (the reverse of motivated). Five strategies of rebuilding deictic systems and forms were identified. None of the languages investigated have used a system identical to the Proto-Indo-European reconstructed system. Mostly internal material from the Proto-Indo-European deictic system was used in the forms of the systems of the daughter languages. Generally, a statistically significant motivated support was found: 70.2% of the forms of the languages used were identified as motivated, 9.2–10.4% were non-motivated and 19.4–20.7% reversed-motivated. Due to the different strategies of rebuilding systems and forms, generative explanations for the motivated support should be excluded. Hence, iconicity seemed to be reintroduced after the decay, by means of language change, of a former (motivated) deictic system. Therefore, it turned out as a very likely conclusion that iconicity has been and is involved in the rebuilding of deictic material, relating to the systems as such.

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Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics

Keywords

  • iconicity, sound symbolism, spatial deixis, language history, Indo-European, motivatedness
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-32
JournalActa Linguistica Hafniensia. International Journal of Structural Linguistics
Volume47
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)