Probing the explanatory power of iconicity in language

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review


This chapter offers a critical reading of iconicity as a form-meaning resemblance and argues instead for a more stringent interpretation of iconicity as an explanatory concept. It is argued that a distinction should be made between an observed similarity and an iconic effect. The validity of this distinction is explained in relation to recent empirical innovations in phonological iconicity research and in relation to the explanatory status of iconicity in grammar. The key idea is that merely observing a form-meaning resemblance does not provide sufficient evidence to establish iconicity. The case is made that an iconic effect can be conceptualized as an extra level of inferred meaning that may emerge in actual discourse and that is added to the encoded, arbitrary, meaning of the sign.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on Iconicity in Language
EditorsOlga Fischer, Kimi Akita, Pamela Perniss
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2025


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