Joint Linguistics and Cognitive Semiotics seminar: A robustness approach to operationalisations of iconicity

7 December 2023 10:15 to 12:00 Seminar

Bonnie McLean (work with Yasamin Motamedi)

Iconicity refers to a resemblance relation between construals of form and meaning. Consider, for example, the English word smash, which can be construed as iconic when connecting the turbulence in its final fricative to the turbulence associated with mental models of ‘smashing’. Iconicity in language is common, and serves important functions both in the spoken and visual modalities. However, the complex processes behind construals of iconicity can present a challenge for operationalizations of iconicity in scientific investigations. In this talk I explore how the notion of robustness from philosophy of science can be used to critically evaluate measures of iconicity, and to figure out what these measures actually target. The main findings are that construals of iconicity not only emerge from structural correspondences between form and meaning, but are also influenced by mappings which tap into other types of motivated form-meaning associations in language, as well as independent processes relating to linguistic experience. To untangle the varying contributions of these different factors, future investigations of iconicity should focus on diversifying the viewpoints from which they examine iconicity, shifting objects of study from decontextualized signs to situated ‘composite utterances’, and triangulating insights from mixed qualitative and quantitative measures.

About the event:

7 December 2023 10:15 to 12:00

On-site: H402, virtually: https://lu-se.zoom.us/j/63263453894


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