How arbitrary is language?

Monaghan, Padraic and Shillcock, Richard C. and Christiansen, Morten H. and Kirby, Simon (2014) How arbitrary is language? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369 (1651). ISSN 0962-8436

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Abstract

It is a long established convention that the relationship between sounds and meanings of words is essentially arbitrary-typically the sound of a word gives no hint of its meaning. However, there are numerous reported instances of systematic sound meaning mappings in language, and this systematicity has been claimed to be important for early language development. In a large-scale corpus analysis of English, we show that sound-meaning mappings are more systematic than would be expected by chance. Furthermore, this systematicity is more pronounced for words involved in the early stages of language acquisition and reduces in later vocabulary development. We propose that the vocabulary is structured to enable systematicity in early language learning to promote language acquisition, while also incorporating arbitrariness for later language in order to facilitate communicative expressivity and efficiency.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Uncontrolled Keywords:
/dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/1300
Subjects:
ID Code:
73226
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
13 Mar 2015 11:38
Refereed?:
Yes
Published?:
Published
Last Modified:
15 Aug 2020 03:24