Arbitrary symbolism is a linguistic doctrine that predicts an orthogonal relationship between word forms and their corresponding meanings. Recent corpora analyses have demonstrated violations of arbitrary symbolism with respect to concreteness, a variable characterizing the sensorimotor salience of a word. In addition to qualitative semantic differences, abstract and concrete words are also marked by distinct morphophonological structures such as length and morphological complexity. Native English speakers show sensitivity to these markers in tasks such as auditory word recognition and naming. One (...) unanswered question is whether this violation of arbitrariness reflects an idiosyncratic property of the English lexicon or whether word concreteness is a marked phenomenon across other natural languages. We isolated concrete and abstract English nouns, and translated each into Russian, Arabic, Dutch, Mandarin, Hindi, Korean, Hebrew, and American Sign Language. We conducted offline acoustic analyses of abstract and concrete word length discrepancies across languages. In a separate experiment, native English speakers with no prior knowledge of these foreign languages judged concreteness of these nouns. Each naïve participant heard pre-recorded words presented in randomized blocks of three foreign languages following a brief listening exposure to a narrative sample from each respective language. Concrete and abstract words differed by length across five of eight languages, and prediction accuracy exceeded chance for four of eight languages. These results suggest that word concreteness is a marked phenomenon across several of the world's most widely spoken languages. We interpret these findings as supportive of an adaptive cognitive heuristic that allows listeners to exploit non-arbitrary mappings of word form to word meaning. (shrink)
"The analogy between memory and a repository, and between remembering and retaining, is obvious and is to be found in all languages; it being natural to express the operations of the mind by images taken from things material. But in philosophy we ought to draw aside the veil of imagery, and to view them naked.".
This book is an excellent and accessible overview of the position that children learn the meanings of words by applying a variety of nonlinguistic cognitive tools to the problem. We take issue with Bloom's emphasis on Theory of Mind as an explanatory mechanism for language learning; and with his claim that only unitary objects are nameable.
Whatever else language may be, it is complex and multifaceted. Shanker & King (S&K) have tried to contrast a dynamic interactive view of language with an information processing view. I take issue with two main claims: first, that the dynamic interactive view of language is a “new paradigm” in either animal research or human language studies; and second, that the dynamic systems language-as-dance view of language is in any way incompatible with an information-processing view of language. That some information is (...) defined in coregulated social interaction guarantees the dancing. That all information is composed of relevant differences guarantees the information processing. (shrink)
Steels & Belpaeme (S&B) describe the role of genetic evolution in linguistic category sharing among a population of agents. We consider their methodology and conclude that, although it is plausible that genetic evolution is sufficient for such tasks, there is a bias in the presented work for such a conclusion to be reached. We suggest ways to eliminate this bias and make the model more convincingly relevant to the cognitive sciences.