form and function

Jess Tauber Zylogy at AOL.COM
Mon Mar 6 19:25:40 UTC 2000

Since everyone else is throwing their two cents in, I will as well:
phonosemantics (my particular hobby-horse, as Ray Jackendoff has put it) is
one area where form and function are as tightly interwoven as they can be
within language structure. The underlying motivating iconicity is
diagrammatic in nature, and should by all rights invite interest from
Chomskyans. The asyntactic behavior of the most obviously transparent forms
(should they be noticed at all in this most Saussurean of all possible
worlds), however, means that they are off their radar screens, like in the
story of the drunk looking for his keys on the street under the lamppost
because the light is better there. Recent work by a variety of scholars is
"illuminating" the various ways phonosemantically transparent forms work
their very orderly way into the normal lexicon through typologically
influenced, historically salient constructional reanalysis, and this should
be of interest to functionalists of a panchronic bent, as well as to folks
with optimality in their hearts. And there are pragmatic angles to consider
as well, which should appeal to the loosier-goosier among functionalists.
But you gotta get over de Saussure. Just because something gets repeated long
enough (especially in your linguistic primer) doesn't make it true. And by
the way- the man himself didn't believe in arbitrariness of the sign the way
his posthumous editors would have you believe- he was in fact quite a
collector of phonosemantically transparent forms. You've been had.

Jess Tauber
zylogy at

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