February 19, 2022 permalink
Why Are Letters Shaped the Way They Are? →
Over on Vice, an interesting write-up on a growing movement in the field of linguistics: that the sounds of words or letterforms themselves can have direct relationships to their referent:
The Color Game did more than show how languages form over time, it violated a long-standing rule in linguistics: the rule of arbitrariness. In the subject of semiotics, or the use of signs and symbols to convey meaning, most students are taught about the theories of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. He wrote that the letters and words in many writing and language systems have no relationship to what they refer to. The word “cat” doesn’t have anything particularly cat-like about it. The reason that “cat” means cat is because English speakers have decided so—it’s a social convention, not anything ingrained in the letters c-a-t. […] But the idea that words, or other signs, do actually relate to what they’re describing has been gaining ground. This is called iconicity: when a spoken or written word, or a gestured sign, is iconic in some way to what it’s referring to.
Aside from familiar English onomatopoeia like bang, chirp, etc., see the takete/maluma effect or bouba/kiki effect, as examples of words that “sound” like something. From the Vice article:
This effect extends beyond made up words. In 2021, researchers wrote about how words in English like ball, globe, balloon and hoop have more round vowels and sounds, compared to angular or spiky objects, such as spike, fork, cactus and shrapnel.
Now I’m also thinking of: