Mark Dingemanse at LEL Research Seminar

Posted on March 8, 2017 by



Next Tuesday, March 14,  we welcome Mark Dingemanse at the LEL Research Seminar. Mark Dingemanse is currently based at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen. The LEL Research Seminar will focus on one of his most recent research interest: iconic (or non-arbitrary) form-meaning mappings in Language. Here is the abstract:


Moving beyond bouba and kiki: empirical approaches to iconicity in natural language

Mark Dingemanse

(Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics)

There is currently an upsurge in research questioning the arbitrariness of the sign: bouba and kiki have spawned a veritable cottage industry of behavioural studies in psychology, while work in linguistics reveals the prevalence of ideophones, iconic sensory words found in many of the world’s languages (Dingemanse et al. 2015). I discuss recent work that connects these fields by combining experimental approaches with linguistic insights. In one study, we take 200 ideophones from 5 languages and find that 80 participants can guess their meaning above chance in a binary choice task. However, the effect is more modest than in typical bouba/kiki work, suggesting that ideophones combine arbitrariness and iconicity. We find that both segments and prosody contribute to iconic interpretations, exposing prosody as a potential confound not controlled for in most earlier studies. In a more direct test of the utility of iconicity in ideophones, we present people with a learning task. We use a controlled subset of Japanese ideophones to test whether natural language iconicity boosts word learning (as suggested by prior work based on pseudowords). We find that ideophones are easiest to learn when paired with their real meaning, and significantly harder when paired with an opposite meaning. Crucially, this difference in ease of learning does not occur for a set of matched arbitrary Japanese adjectives under the same manipulation, suggesting there is indeed something special about the link between form and meaning in ideophones. Ideophones present perceptual analogies between form and meaning that aid interpretation and recall. I close by addressing an apparent paradox: if iconicity facilitates language learning, why are not all words (or at least more words) iconic? I review cross-linguistic evidence for different types of form-meaning mappings in the lexicon, and argue there are competing motivations that result in a combination of arbitrariness, iconicity and systematicity. 

Dingemanse, Mark, Damián E. Blasi, Gary Lupyan, Morten H. Christiansen, and Padraic Monaghan. 2015. “Arbitrariness, Iconicity and Systematicity in Language.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 19 (10): 603–15. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.013.


Please join us for the talk! As usual, everyone is invited to stick around afterwards to talk to our speaker over some wine and crisps.

Event details:

Location: Ellen Wilkinson Building, room A2.6

Date and time: Tuesday, March 14, 4.15pm-5.30pm

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