forum SignWriting List Forum
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From:  Joe Martin
Date:  Wed Oct 28, 1998  4:14 am
Subject:  iconicity

My 1.5 cents;

Ferdinand De Saussure is widely acknowledged to be a founder of modern
linguistics. One of his big contributions was to define the linguistic
sign, which I will unpompously call an LS (normal people would
say "a word." But it's confusing, cuz for us smart people on this list it
can mean either a spoken word or an ASL-or-other-signed-language-Sign.
He saw this LS as a trinity--1) a meaning, 2) a symbol, 3) an
*arbitrary* link between the two. The opposite of arbitrary is *iconic,
meaning there is something about the symbol itself that tells you what it
means. THe big deal was that human languages didn't have this iconicity; to
use a standard example, there is nothing about the sound combinations
"gato," "kot," "cat," or "neko," that tell you they refer to a cute little
Of course, in the "old days," everyone knew that sign language was just
pictures in the air, iconic, not arbitrary; that's a Lot of the
reason there was (is?) so much resistance to accepting it as language.
Linguists had to move whole mountain ranges to get them to see
arbitrariness in ASL.
The focus of that discussion was on the link between meaning and
LS. It really had nothing to do with writing systems. There is another
arbitrary link between spoken sounds and the scribbles used to represent
those sounds. Gotta be arbitrary, because the sounds are aural and the
written scribbles are visual. But--and here is a cool thing to tell those
cranky old linguists--since both Sign Languages and SignWriting are
visual, that second arbitrary link can be avoided. This eliminates huge
amounts of that mental processing load that Karen mentioned, thus making
it vastly easier to learn than any other system.
And I'm pretty sure ol' Ferdinand would agree with that, too.

Joe Martin

  Replies Author Date
513 Re: iconicity Valerie Sutton Wed  10/28/1998
526 Re: iconicity Judy Kegl Fri  10/30/1998
514 Re: iconicity Valerie Sutton Wed  10/28/1998
516 International SW Pen Pal Club Valerie Sutton Wed  10/28/1998
518 Re: International SW Pen Pal Club Joan Naturale AUS Wed  10/28/1998

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