centre for study in Human advance and Learning, room of Psychology, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YF, UK

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Richard C. Shillcock

institution of Informatics, college of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

School the Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, college of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

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Morten H. Christiansen

room of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

Haskins Laboratories, brand-new Haven, CT 06511, USA

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Simon Kirby

institution of Philosophy, Psychology and also Language Sciences, college of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

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Padraic Monaghan

centre for research study in Human development and Learning, room of Psychology, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YF, UK

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Richard C. Shillcock

school of Informatics, university of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, college of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

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Morten H. Christiansen

room of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

Haskins Laboratories, brand-new Haven, CT 06511, USA

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Simon Kirby

college of Philosophy, Psychology and also Language Sciences, university of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

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It is a long created convention the the relationship between sounds and also meanings of words is basically arbitrary—typically the sound the a word offers no hint of its meaning. However, there are numerous reported instances of organized sound–meaning mappings in language, and also this systematicity has actually been asserted to be necessary for early language development. In a large-scale corpus analysis of English, we present that sound–meaning mappings are more systematic than would certainly be intended by chance. Furthermore, this systematicity is an ext pronounced for words connected in the early stages the language acquisition and also reduces in later vocabulary development. Us propose that the vocabulary is structured to allow systematicity in beforehand language learning to encourage language acquisition, while likewise incorporating arbitrariness for later on language in order come facilitate communicative expressivity and efficiency.

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1. Introduction

One of the main ‘design features’ of person language is that the relationship in between the sound of a word and also its definition is arbitrarily <1,2>; provided the sound of one unknown word, that is not possible to infer that is meaning. Such a view has actually been the traditional perspective on vocabulary structure and language handling in the language sciences throughout much of the past century (see <3> for review). Due to the fact that de Saussure"s <1> notion of the arbitrariness that the sign, such a property has been assumed to be a language-universal property and has even assumed a definitional characteristic: follow to Hockett <2>, for instance, a communication system will certainly not count as a language unless it demonstrates such arbitrariness. Through contrast, throughout many of human being intellectual background <4,5>, the sound of a native was regularly assumed to directly express the meaning, a view recently revived in studies trying out sound symbolism <6–8>. So, is spoken language arbitrary or systematic?

Sound–meaning mappings may be non-arbitrary in two means <9>. First, through absolute iconic representation where some function of the language straight imitates the referent, together in onomatopoeia. For example, combine the sound that a dog makes right into the authorize for the sound itself (i.e. Woof woof) is one example of this pure iconicity. Second, the sound–meaning mapping can be an instance of loved one iconicity, where statistical regularities have the right to be detect between comparable sounds and similar meanings though these might not be minimal to imitative creates <3>. In this case, the iconicity is not transparent, however is generally only observable once understanding of the sound- and also meaning-relationships is determined. An instance of this is for details phonoaesthemes <6>, such as sl- introduce to negative or repellent properties (e.g. Slime, slow, slur, slum). Other phonoaesthemes may without doubt represent absolute iconicity (such together sn- introduce to the sleep via onomatopoeic nature of that is functions), and also there is debate around which phonoaesthemes are without doubt absolute or relative in your iconicity. Nevertheless, in the literature, both of these forms of iconicity have been described as systematicity in sound–meaning mappings, to comparison with arbitrariness. In spoken language, it is no clear that absolute iconicity might occur without relative iconicity. In the situation of onomatopoeia, because that instance, the top relationship in between the really sound the animal makes and the etymological sign carries some connection to the nature the the beast (front vowels are much more likely in native for small animals" call than huge animals" calls, to compare cheep cheep for chicks versus roar because that a lion). Hence, together instances of pure iconicity are likely to be reflected in relative sound similarity measures.

Arbitrariness the form–meaning mappings introduce a profound expense for learning: as the mapping in between the sign and its referent needs to be developed anew because that each word, knowing all the various other words in the vocabulary walk not aid in finding out a new word. As well as the cost for processing and learning that the language, to Renaissance scholar the lack of apparent systematicity between form and definition was viewed as an offensive property of language <4>. Arbitrariness was understood in regards to the story the the Tower of Babel, in i beg your pardon a previously globally taken language was confounded through magnificent intervention. Over there are numerous accounts of scholars aiming come rediscover the ‘universal language’—the pre-Babel tongue where form and an interpretation were perfectly aligned. John Wilkins, a founder the the imperial Society, developed one the the most finish systems of language that connected forms closely to meanings, a system exemplifying relative iconicity <10>. Wilkins" language, entertainingly shown in Eco"s <4> treatise, created a pecking order of categories of boosting specificity, with each category and subcategory suggested by a details letter. For instance, in Wilkins" system, plants begin with the letter ‘g’, and animals with the letter ‘z’. Then, for the subcategories the animals, exanguious animals begin through ‘zα’, fish start with ‘za’, birds with ‘ze’ and beasts through ‘zi’. For further subcategories, added letters space appended. Together a language would clearly result in much inheritance of information throughout words. So, on encountering a brand-new word, the general an interpretation could it is in determined based upon its form.

However, computational modelling and experimental researches of vocabulary salvation have argued that arbitrariness may, contradictory to early stage expectations, actually result in a learning advantage. In a collection of connectionist computational models, which learned come map phonological creates of words onto definition through one associative discovering mechanism, Gasser <11> prove that, together the size of the vocabulary increased, arbitrariness in the mappings in between inputs and also outputs that the model resulted in much better learning. This an outcome was interpreted as being due to greater adaptability in the interleaving of new items right into an already learned collection of mappings. For methodical sound–meaning mappings, the sources assigned come the new word room recruited indigenous those currently assigned come mapping between comparable words, whereas for arbitrary mappings, the sources for discovering the new word have the right to be attracted from all over in the system. Because that an associative finding out system, discovering to kind a mapping deserve to be comparable to learning the principal materials from the input–output pairings <12>. For methodical mappings, the collection of mappings deserve to be effectively described with a solitary component, and space on this ingredient can end up being crowded. Because that arbitrary mappings, a separate component is required for every mapping individually, to reduce the possibilities because that interference in between words stood for by distinctive components.

In a series of experimental and computational studies, Monaghan et al. <13> demonstrated that for finding out novel words, arbitrariness in the sound–meaning mapping was valuable compared through a vocabulary through a organized form–meaning mapping. However, this advantage was only influential when second contextual cue was detailed for the student within the language, either in the kind of co-occurrence with a native that concerned the basic categorical definition of the word, or in terms of a morphological feature that pertained to category. For instance, in this contextual cue condition, utterances comprised a mite word (either ‘weh’, which constantly occurred once the referent was an item or ‘muh’ which constantly occurred when the referent was an action) together with a introduce word (e.g. ‘paab’), which was heard concurrently with the town hall a photo referent. Arbitrariness or systematicity was carried in the relationships in between the sounds of the referring words and also the category distinction between objects and also actions in the collection of referents. There is no the mite word (‘weh’ or ‘muh’), finding out was not valuable in the arbitrary condition. In the very same study, the computational research studies were connectionist models that imposed an associative discovering mechanism in bespeak to discover to map form onto an interpretation representations, either through or there is no context. Again, when context to be present, the arbitrary mapping was optimal for learning. Evaluation of the computational model"s systems to the mapping demonstrated the arbitrariness permits maximizing that the potential details in the discovering situation, resulting in effective mapping gift achieved. In the methodical condition, indigenous with similar sounds emerged in comparable contexts, reduce distinctiveness in the environment for identifying the plan referent and also resulting in less efficient mappings gift formed. These results were precisely in line with Wilkins" own errors in transcription, through which closely related words suffered mislabelling: Eco notes the Gade (barley) was created in ar of Gape (tulip) in Wilkins" essay <4>.

In comparison to the see of the arbitrariness that the sign, there space a growing number of corpus analyses and behavioural studies that show some systematicity in spoken language. For some attributes of meaning, such together vowel quality relating come size, the sound-symbolic properties space language-universal <6,7,9>; for instance, the non-words ‘mil’ and ‘mal’ are generally understood to express little and large, respectively, throughout cultures. High and also low vowel contrasts, exemplified by the i/a distinction, have additionally been displayed to occur in small/large expressives, respectively, throughout most, if not all, language <14>. Over there are additionally numerous language-specific properties, such as phonoaesthemes, that refer to clusters of phonemes relating to particular meanings. Because that example, in English, words associated with the nose and also its attributes tend to begin with sn-, or words introduce to light often begin with gl- <6>. Preferences for particular sound–meaning relationships, have actually been demonstrated to affect learning of novel adjectives <15>, verbs <16,17>, nouns <18,19> and mixes thereof <20>, though these studies usually test a forced an option between two alternatives. When the semantic distinction is not immediately available, together in a forced-choice test between two objects from various categories, then learning is less noticeable but still existing under some learning problems <21>.

Sound symbolism has actually been suggest to it is in vitally important for language acquisition due to the fact that inherent properties of meaning in sound would enable children to uncover that words describe the world roughly them. Sound-symbolic words not only represent your meaning, however can literally combine the senses to which they refer in ~ the sound, as in onomatopoeia. This mechanism could facilitate acquisition not only of details sound–meaning mappings, but likewise the knowledge that there space mappings between sounds and an interpretation <8>. Such preferences for specific sound–meaning mappings have now been displayed for young children. Because that instance, there are many studies with adults demonstrating the nonsense words such as bouba and kiki are discovered to reliably relate come rounded and angular objects, respectively (see <21> for review). However, Ozturk et al. <22> demonstrated the four-month-old kids have a comparable preference, indicating that substantial knowledge around language is not required in bespeak to kind these preferences. Similarly, pedestrian et al. <23> verified that three- to four-month-old infants were maybe to kind cross-modal correspondences between spatial height and also angularity v auditory pitch, demonstrating that cross-modal post preferences deserve to precede substantial language discovering rather than being a an effect of the truth that a specific language instantiates these correspondences <24>.

Yet, we have seen that systematicity in sound–meaning mappings in the vocabulary come at a cost in terms of reducing the distinctiveness that words the have similar meanings, potentially enhancing confusion end intended an interpretation <9,13>. So, offered this tension between the linguistic convention the arbitrariness and the cultivation body of researches demonstrating sound symbolism in language and its proposed prestige for early on language acquisition, the long-standing concern remains open regarding how arbitrarily language in reality is. Room the observed systematic clusters, such as phonoaesthemes, simply a ‘negligible fraction’ <25> that the lexicon or is systematicity a an ext substantial function of spoken language? This is an important question to deal with because it offers insight not only into the nature of the vocabulary that support acquisition and processing, however also more generally into the manner in i beg your pardon mappings in between representations are built in the brain. Over there is evidence that systematicity in mappings between sensory regions of the cortex might be much more efficient <26>; consequently, there is perhaps a balance to find between implementational constraints in the brain with potential advantages of arbitrariness for communicative efficiency. We go back to this suggest in the Discussion.

To our knowledge, there space three previous released studies the have arisen a measure up of the nature of sound–meaning mappings existing in organic language. Tamariz <27> investigated subsamples the Spanish vocabulary, relating distances in sound space to ranges in definition space, where definitions were obtained from the contextual event of native <28>. For very closely selected subsets that Spanish words, she demonstrated that the relationship in between sound and definition contained a small degree that systematicity, specifically in the relationship in between consonants and categories of meaning. Otis & Sagi <29> examined the relationships between sets of letter and definition for phonaesthemes, where meanings were obtained from Infomap <30>, a variant of implicit semantic analysis <31>. They concentrated on sets of phonoaesthemes proposed in the literature <32>, which formed statistically significant clusters of associated meanings. They uncovered that, of 46 phonaesthemes suggest by Hutchins <32> as current in the English language, 27 to be statistically far-ranging clusters, consisting of sn- and also gl-. Third, a study <33> that a little sample that the most frequent monomorphemic native of English caused an estimate of sound symbolism and found results constant with those that Tamariz <27>.

However, there has as however been no substantial analysis that the relationship between kind and definition for a massive representative vocabulary. The very first aim of this examine was to identify the nature of the form–meaning mapping because that a wide and representative set of native in English. Previous researches have focused on a single measure the sound and also of an interpretation and have assessed only subsamples the the vocabulary. We sampled all the monosyllabic native in English because that the analyses. Monosyllabic native constitute 70.9% of every word offers in English <34>, and so confining analyses to just these indigenous is a reasonable approximation to the totality vocabulary. To ensure the the limitation come monosyllabic native did not adversely impact the results, we additionally gathered a corpus of every monomorphemic words of all lengths (we describe this in the adhering to as polysyllabic). However, we assume the language processing and also language salvation are influenced by the frequency through which words happen in the linguistic environment, and also so caution must be required to ensure that the plenty of long multisyllabic words that occur an extremely rarely in language <35> carry out not skew the results towards a non-representative subsample the the vocabulary. Furthermore, this study examines the robustness that the it was observed sound–meaning mapping to various representations that sound and also meaning, come ensure that estimates of systematicity or arbitrariness that the vocabulary space not susceptible to a details interpretation of sound or definition similarity.

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The second aim of this research was to research the contribution of separation, personal, instance words come the as whole system the form–meaning mappings. This permits us to recognize whether the relationship between type and meaning in the vocabulary is early out to small clusters of words that are related or unrelated across kind and definition representations, or whether the properties of the mapping room generalizable throughout the entirety vocabulary. Furthermore, it way that the relationship between an separation, personal, instance word"s systematicity and also its psycholinguistic properties can also be measured. In particular, we related systematicity at the word level come the period at which a native is learned. If sound symbolism is critical for language acquisition, then we would intend to see intensified systematicity because that the words the children first acquire.