Metaphoric Iconicity in Signed and Spoken Languages

Defu YapUniversity of Chicago
Laura Staum CasasantoUniversity of Chicago
Daniel CasasantoUniversity of Chicago

Abstract

Since Saussure, the idea that the forms of words are arbitrarily related to their meanings has been widely accepted. Yet, implicit metaphorical mappings may provide opportunities for iconicity throughout the lexicon. We hypothesized that vertical spatial metaphors for emotional valence are manifested in language through space in signed languages and through the spatialized dimension of pitch in spoken languages. In Experiment 1, we analyzed the directions of the hand motions constituting words in three signed languages, and related them to the valence of their English translation equivalents. The vertical direction of signs predicted their valences. On average, signs with upward movements were the most positive in valence, and signs with downward movements the most negative. Signs with non-vertical movements were intermediate in valence. Experiment 2 extended this type of analysis to a tonal language, Mandarin Chinese. The pitch contours of Chinese words predicted the valence of their English translation equivalents.

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