From Icon to Abstraction

This is a bi-national research project funded by the AHRC (UK) and the DFG (Germany).

Traditional views of language have confined iconicity to the margins of language because they can only refer to concrete concepts and thus have a limited capacity to refer to abstract terms. In this project, we challenge this claim by looking at sign languages, the manual-visual languages of deaf communities. In collaboration with Prof. Pamela Perniss (University of Cologne), we will compare the form and meaning of the lexicons of two unrelated sign languages (DGS and BSL) and the silent gestures of hearing speakers in Germany and the UK to determine how iconicity or arbitrariness interact with different semantic domains to refer to concrete and abstract concepts.

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