Discovering phonaesthemes (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 4)

Although the relationship between sound and meaning in language is mostly arbitrary, there exist pockets of so-called systematicity: clusters in which particular forms recur with particular meanings. One example of systematicity is the existence of phonaesthemes. Phonaesthemes are recurring patterns of sound and meaning that occur below the morphemic level, which is traditionally considered the … Continue reading Discovering phonaesthemes (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 4)

Why are languages different?

It’s no secret that different languages are different. One particularly well-known dimension along which languages differ is in their morphological structure[1], which refers to how words[2] are formed in a language. Some languages have pretty simple words, meaning there are relatively few morphemes, or units of meaning, per word. For an example in English, the … Continue reading Why are languages different?

Discovering systematicity (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 3)

Language is mostly arbitrary, but there are patterns of systematicity both within and across languages. As discussed previously, arbitrariness and systematicity seem to play unique roles in improving both the learnability and communicative utility of a language. So how can we, as researchers, quantify the degree of arbitrariness and systematicity in a language? And how … Continue reading Discovering systematicity (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 3)

A Case for Non-Arbitrariness (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 2)

Previously, we established that arbitrariness is an essential part of language. It allows for greater communicative utility, and probably learnability as well – two of the main transmission biases that were hypothesized to affect the evolution of a language. But then how do we account for the fact that there is non-arbitrariness in language? Non-arbitrariness … Continue reading A Case for Non-Arbitrariness (Arbitrariness in language, pt. 2)

Arbitrariness in Language, Pt. 1

Pretty much since its inception, one of the core principles of linguistics has been that language is arbitrary (De Saussure, 1916; Hockett, 1960). That is, there’s no apparent relationship between a sign and what it signifies; nothing inherent about the word “dog” suggests that it must refer to the DOG concept[1]. But this hasn’t stopped … Continue reading Arbitrariness in Language, Pt. 1