Colloquia Green

– Systematicity, Iconicity, and the structure of the lexicon –

In recent years, the proposal that the relationship between words and their meanings is entirely arbitrary has been heavily criticised. Recent findings have suggested that parts of the lexicon are non-arbitrary in two ways:  iconicity refers to direct relationships between words and meanings, whereas systematicity refers to relationships between sets of words and sets of meanings. Both of these types of non-arbitrariness are suggested to have important implications for language learning.

In this talk I will present the results of a series of experiments investigating these claims, demonstrating:

  • That systematicity and iconicity both enhance learning in certain contexts


  • That each has inherent limitations
  • That systematicity and iconicity are often conflated in the literature
  • That broader claims about the centrality of non-arbitrariness for language learning should be tempered until we have a better understanding of the processes involved

I conclude by suggesting a number of productive avenues for future research, including the need to account for the different distribution of non-arbitrariness both within and between the world’s languages.

19 JAN 2017 | MPI 163 | 15.45 – 17.00