A Cross-Linguistic Study of Lexical Iconicity
and its Manifestation in Bird Names
University of Helsinki
This cross-linguistic study of lexical iconicity is based on a genealogically stratified sample of 237 languages. The aim is to contribute with an empirical study to the growing dialogue focusing on different forms of lexical iconicity. The conceptual framework of the present study is based on an analysis of types and means of lexical iconicity in the sample languages. Archaeological and cultural evidence are used to tie lexical iconicity to its context.
Phenomena related to lexical iconicity are studied both cross-linguistically and language-specifically. The cognitive difference between imitation and symbolism is essential. Lexical iconicity is not only about the iconic relationship between form and referents, but also about how certain iconic properties may become conventional, means used to create sound symbolism.
All the sample languages show some evidence of lexical iconicity, demonstrating that it is a universal feature. Nine comparisons of onomatopoeic verbs and nouns, with samples varying between six and 141 languages, show that typologically highly different languages use similar means for creating words based on sound imitation. Two cross-linguistic comparisons of bird names demonstrate that a vast majority of the Eurasian names of the common cuckoo and the world-wide names of crow and raven of the 141 genera are onomatopoeic.
ISBN 9783862880584. LINCOM Studies in Typology 18. 238pp. 2011.