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Iconicity Research Project

Amsterdam - Zürich Iconicity Research Project

Since 1997 the Iconicity Research Project (initially based on a co-operation between the Universities of Amsterdam and Zurich) has organised international and interdisciplinary symposia every two years to provide increasing evidence for the extensive presence of iconicity (i.e. form miming meaning and form miming form) in language and in literature. By means of detailed case studies (at first the main focus was on English but the interest has widened to other Indo-European and non-Indo-European languages) the symposia have, on the one hand, concentrated on iconicity as a driving force in language (in both spoken and signed languages) and on all possible levels (i.e. the phonetic, morphological, syntactic, lexical and discourse levels); in language acquisition (children's use of language); and in language change (grammaticalisation; developments in pidgins and creoles). On the other hand, the symposia have addressed the various mimetic uses of more concrete and creative iconic images and/or more abstract iconic diagrams at all levels of the literary text, both in narrative and poetic form, and in all varieties of discourse (literary texts, historical texts, political texts, advertising, language and music, literature and music, etc). So far, there have been five international and interdisciplinary conferences on iconicity in language and literature: 1997 in Zurich, 1999 in Amsterdam, 2001 in Jena, 2003 in Louvain-la-Neuve, and 2005 in Cracow (The sixth symposium will take place in in 2007.) Past keynote speakers in this series of conferences include: Sylvia Adamson (Manchester), Paul Bouissac (Toronto),Wolfgang Dressler (Vienna), Ivan Fónagy (Paris), John Haiman (St. Paul MN), Jørgen Dines Johansen (Odense), Jean-Jacques Lecercle (Nanterre), Winfried Nöth (Kassel), Ralph Norrman† (Tampere), Wilhelm Pötters (Würzburg), Dan Slobin (Berkeley), John white. The most interesting and relevant papers given at those conferences have been collected in four publications (all published by Benjamins, Amsterdam): Form Miming Meaning. Iconicity in Language and Literature (1999), The Motivated Sign. Iconicity in Language and Literature 2 (2001), From Sign to Signing. Iconicity in Language and Literature 3 (2003), and Iconicity Inside-Out. Iconicity in Language and Literature 4 (forthcoming). A further series of papers that were presented at the 1999 Amsterdam conference was published in the special number Iconicity of the European Journal of English Studies (EJES 5) in 2001.



New Iconicity Research Project at the University of Amsterdam

(from March 1, 2006):

Title: Iconicity in language use, language learning, and language change

Coordinator: Prof. Dr. Olga Fischer

Members of the research group within ACLC: Prof. Dr. Olga Fischer

Non-ACLC Researchers:

Prof. Dr. Christina Ljungberg (University of Zürich)
Prof. Dr Paul Bouissac (University of Toronto)
Prof. Dr William Herlofsky (Nagoya Gakuin University)
Dr. Piotr Sadowski (Trinity/American College, Dublin)
Prof. Dr Elżbieta Tabakowska (University of Krakow)
Dr. Klaas Willems (University of Ghent)
Ludovic De Cuypere, PhD project (University of Ghent)
Hendrik de Smet, PhD project (University of Leuven)

Description
Iconicity as a semiotic notion refers to a natural resemblance or analogy between the form of a sign (‘the signifier’), and the object or concept (‘the signified’) it refers to in the world or rather in our perception of the world. The similarity between sign and object may be due to common features inherent in both; in this case we speak of ‘imagic’ iconicity (as e.g. in onomatopoeia, some signs in signed language) and the sign is called an ‘iconic image’. In spoken languages, the analogy or similarity is usually more abstract: we then have to do with diagrammatic iconicity which is based on a relationship between signs that mirrors a similar relation between objects or actions. Both imagic and diagrammatic iconicity are not clean-cut categories but form a continuum on which the iconic instances run from almost perfect mirroring (i.e. a semiotic relationship that is virtually independent of any individual language) to a relationship that becomes more and more suggestive and also more and more language-dependent.
Contrary to the structuralist idea that language is fundamentally arbitrary (or in semiotic terms, ‘symbolic’), considerable linguistic research in the twentieth century has shown that iconicity operates at every level of language (spelling, phonology, morphology, syntax) and in practically every known language. The process referred to as grammaticalization can also be seen to be related to iconicity, e.g. via the iconic principles of quantity and proximity as shown i.a. by John Haiman and Talmy Givón. Iconicity and grammaticalization also form part of the grammaticalization cycle, whereby new, exploratory iconic forms replace grammaticalized structures (cf. Plank 1979, Fischer 1997). Recent literary criticism has confirmed that iconicity is also pervasive in literary texts, from its prosody and rhyme, its lineation, stanzaic ordering, its textual and narrative structure to its typographic layout on the page.

History
Since 1997 the Iconicity Research Project (initially based on a co-operation between the Universities of Amsterdam and Zürich) has organised international and interdisciplinary symposia biannually to provide increasing evidence for the extensive presence of iconicity in language (including literary texts). By means of detailed case studies the symposia have concentrated on iconicity as a driving force in language (in both spoken and signed languages) on all possible levels (i.e. the typographic, phonetic, morphological, syntactic, lexical and discourse levels); in language acquisition (children's use of language); and in language change (grammaticalisation; developments in pidgins and creoles).

The program involves a long-term research project. It was started in 1996 and has developed a webpage (http://home.hum.uva.nl/iconicity/), which is maintained by the Amsterdam and Zürich coordinators. Olga Fischer and Christina Ljungberg will continue to organize the biannual symposia in cooperation with local organizers. They are also, from February 2006, onwards the general editors of the Iconicity Series for Benjamins. Olga Fischer is on the editorial board of the electronic journal Iconicity in language (http://www.trismegistos.com/IconicityInLanguage/) and both Christina Ljungberg and Olga Fischer are involved in The Public Journal of Semiotics started by Paul Bouissac in Toronto (http://semiotics.ca/) and on the advisory board of the Semiotics Encyclopedia (http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/epc/srb/dse/index.html)

Possibilities exist for both internal and external PhD projects (more information follows at a later date)