Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Names should be as much like things as possible.

— Socrates

Corporate logos and road signs often demonstrate iconicity. But words?

A new study suggests they do.

While linguists like Noam Chomsky insist any link between a word and its meaning is a man-made convention, two research scientists, Nora Turoman and Susy Styles, say the link may be a natural occurrence.

That link may be iconic. An iconic word would be one whose form resembles its meaning.

Turoman and Styles found that ordinary speakers, when presented with pairs of ancient glyphs, can correctly guess which letter was used to represent the sound "oo" (as in "shoe") and which was used to represent the sound "ee" (as in "feet").

Their experiments further suggest some glyphs better represent the sound "oo," and some better represent "ee"—regardless of where or when they originated.

The glyphs that represent "oo" are more likely to be complex (i.e., use more ink); the ones that represent "ee," more likely to be simple (i.e., use less ink). The "guess-ability" of a glyph is higher for those that use more ink to represent "oo" and less ink to represent "ee."

But what's the link to nature?

Turoman and Styles claim it's acoustics.

The sounds "oo" and "ee" differ in their acoustic frequencies (we pronounce "oo" at a lower frequency than "ee"). So "oo" fits with big, inky glyphs for the same reason low-frequency sounds are produced by big bells; and "ee" fits with less small, less inky glyphs, for the same reason high-frequency sounds are produced by small bells.
Powered by Blogger.