Insistent Images

Insistent Images

Iconicity in Language and Literature 5.

Edited by Elzbieta Tabakowska, Christina Ljungberg and Olga   Fischer

Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2007.   

   Table of Contents

    Preface and acknowledgements   
    List of Contributors   
    Introduction: Insistent Images       
Christina Ljungberg and Elżbieta Tabakowska


Part I: Iconicity and grammaticalization

Putting Grammaticalization to the iconicity test 

Paul  Bouissac   

This chapter questions the premises of the theory of grammaticalization which claims that “abstract” grammatical morphemes derives from “concrete” lexical items through a process of phonetic and semantic attrition. This theory generally assumes that language is grounded in iconicity. Thus, questioning the latter also puts the former to a test. The first section presents arguments against the notion of lexical “concreteness”. The second raises the issue of whether the “abstractness” of grammar is an artifact of pedagogical discourse or truly reflects the nature of grammatical relations. The third part proposes to frame the problems that gave rise to the notion of grammaticalization in an utterance-based  perspective  inspired by the cognitivist approach to language. The conclusion attempts to explain why contemporary linguistics has taken the form of a mosaic of theories that are often difficult to reconcile.

Iconic thumbs, pinkies and pointers: The grammaticalization of animate-entity handshapes in Japan Sign Language 

William J. Herlofsky   

In all sign languages that have been studied so far, there are verbs of motion which have been referred to as ‘classifier constructions’, where the movement expressed by the verb is combined with certain animate-entity handshapes called ‘classifiers’. These handshapes iconically represent certain salient characteristics of their referents, and are said to ‘classify’ their referents into certain groups, basing this classification on, for example, size and/or shape. The objective of this paper is to describe and illustrate the nature of iconic handshapes in classifier-like constructions in Japan Sign Language (JSL), and how their functions and patterns of grammaticalization are in some ways similar to and in other ways different from those identified for classifiers in spoken languages. 

Part II: Iconicity and the aural

The physical basis for phonological iconicity

Keiko Masuda;

This paper examines the physical basis of two types of phonological iconicity from a phonetic viewpoint and attempts to unravel the mechanism of phonological iconicity in its entirety. Many researchers consider the basis of association in indirect phonological iconicity (e.g. high-front vowels being associated with smallness) to be acoustic resonance frequency, size of oral cavity, and kinesthetic sensation. The first two bases appear closely related when examined in the light of the general principle in direct phonological iconicity (e.g. bow-wow). The bases both involve the front oral cavity (FOC), the resonance frequency of which is also the key factor in direct phonological iconicity (Masuda 2003; 2005). Therefore FOC may be one of the most influential bases of phonological iconicity

Reading aloud and Charles Dickens’ prose style           

Tammy Ho Lai Min    

This paper explores how the Victorian practice of reading aloud affected Dickens's writing style. My argument is that the practice had contributed to an aural prose style in the author's novels. In the novels, a considerable amount of passages which are particularly aural in nature and performance-oriented can be found. Dickens made use of various formal linguistic means such as typography, onomatopoeia, sound patterning, sentence length and prose rhythm to foreground the sound portrayed in the passages. Also, I argue that the emphasis on sound in Dickens's novels sometimes also serves the purposes of narrative power, that is, it results in rhetorical impact, emotional heightening, and highlighting of key narrative moments. 

Iconicity and the divine in the fin de siècle poetry of WB Yeats   
S. B. Pryor   

This article examines the iconicity of the divine in the early poetry of W. B. Yeats. It begins with a central difficulty: how can poetic form mime meaning when that meaning, the divine, is unknown or even ineffable? Some of Yeats’s early poems respond to this difficulty with an ironic form of iconicity, mourning the fact that the more a poem seems like the divine, the less it is divine. The article then explores the ways in which Yeats’s early poetry tests this distinction between likeness and identity. It closes by examining certain poems which transform iconic effects into acts of creation (as if meaning mimes form), and by exploring the troubling implications of this inversion. 

Is lámatyáve a linguistic heresy? Iconicity in J.R.R. Tolkien’s invented languages    

Joanna Podhorodecka    

The aim of this paper is a brief study of iconic effects in the phonology of J.R.R. Tolkien’s invented languages. Tolkien’s notion of lámatyáve or ‘phonetic fitness’ is here explained in reference to Ivan Fónagy’s theory of symbolic vocal gestures – systematic, meaningful distortions of speech sounds that convey emotive messages. By analyzing several samples of Tolkien’s artificial languages, the author proves that effects similar to those that Fónagy describes on phonetic level appear on phonological level in the structure of those languages, most notably in quantitative proportions of particular sounds.

Part III: Iconicity and the visual

The Beauty of life and the variety of signs: Guillaume Apollinaire’s ‘lyrical ideogram’ La Cravate et la montre

Peter Gahl

This article offers a close reading of Guillaume Apollinaire’s ‘lyrical ideogram’ La Cravate et la montre (The Tie and the Watch, 1914): an analysis of the poem's specific form of interaction between words and images which shows how the author probably intended it to be read, and a systematic approach to the semantic structure. ‘Time’ and ‘the human body’ are identified as the main isotopies and ‘life’ vs. ‘death’ and ‘linear’ vs. ‘circular’ conception of time as the most prominent oppositions, the latter being reflected also by the poem’s graphical structure which ‘quotes’ Marc Chagall’s Hommage à Apollinaire. A second important topic is the co-presence of different modes of signification – iconic and symbolic – which corresponds to Apollinaire’s metasemiotical reflections of that period, namely to his conception of ‘surréalisme’.

Forms of restricted iconicity in modern avant-garde poetry        

John J. White

This paper explores some of the forms minimal iconicity has taken in European poetry. Covering the period from early modernism to the experiments of the Paris OULIPO group and recent concrete poets, it offers close readings of work by Man Ray, Christian Morgenstern, Ernst Jandl, Jiří Kolář, Harry Mathews, François Le Lionnais and Otto Nebel. Illustrating the inventiveness of minimalist iconicity, it shows that a reduced iconic repertoire can actually multiply the interpretive options available. Types of complexity analyzed include: the interplay between visual and acoustic iconicity and instances of unstable referentiality in examples of form miming meaning and form miming form and hybrid combinations thereof. As visual and acoustic iconicity is superseded by diagrammatic forms, a process of intellectualization is shown to set in. 

Eco-Iconicity in the poetry and poem-groups of E. E. Cummings

Etienne Terblanche and Michael Webster 

If in iconicity “form mimes meaning”, then in eco-iconicity formal elements like syntax, word division, visual placement on the page, the use of white spaces, and what might be called a transformational semantics all work together to mime the dynamic processes of the ecosystem. The poet’s lower-case persona inhabits insubstantial air as a voice, and then sinks in a moment of transcendence into a star. In addition, the star is iconically present within the air and on the page. Moreover, the poem ends not with the period, but with white space, resisting closure. In this paper, we will show how Cummings uses devices like these to emphasize and enact dynamic transformations in, between, and among poems, positing “meaning” as a continual process, transformation, and co-incidence of “now” moments of being. By means of a heightened iconic precision, Cummings persuades the reader to become aware again of his or her original ecological being.   
The language of film is a matrix of icons

Strother Purdy

The powerful and near-universal effect of 100 years of motion pictures on human culture has naturally led to considerable study of how this effect is brought about, including an effort to break it down into its operative units. That they are not linguistic units, as held by regnant theories of the “language of film” but representational, and as such best analyzed by application of Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of the icon, is the argument of the present paper. 

Liberature: A new kind of art or a new literary genre? 

Katarzyna Bazarnik

The paper defines liberature (Pol. liberatura) as a distinct literary genre whose constitutive feature is an organic unity of the linguistic content with its material form. It discusses the difference of the postulated genre from “the artist’s book” in which the emphasis lies on the visual rather than textual component. Through a discussion of works of Bryan Stanley Johnson, Stéphane Mallarmé, James Joyce and contemporary Polish writers, Zenon Fajfer and Katarzyna Bazarnik, it addresses the question of iconic qualities of liberature, and places the concept in the context of earlier theoretical reflection, especially, Carl Darryl Malmgren’s notion of iconic space in the novel. In particular, iconic compositional space can be identified as a touchstone for the liberatic character of a literary work.


Part IV: Iconicity and conceptualization

Meaning on the one and on the other hand:  Iconicity in native vs. foreign signed languages  

Meike Adam, Wiebke Iversen, Erin Willkinson and Jill P. Morford

 The present study investigates the effect of language-specific knowledge on iconicity ratings of native and foreign signs. German signers judged the iconicity and similarity of DGS (German Sign Language) and ASL (American Sign Language) signs. We found that iconicity ratings were higher for DGS than for ASL signs, and that DGS signers perceived the ASL signs to be less iconic than ASL signers. Further, iconicity judgements of foreign signs were mediated by the phonological and conceptual similarity of those signs to DGS signs. Overall our results indicate that iconicity is not an ontological attribute of the sign itself, no ‘objective iconicity’ exists. We conclude that the perception of iconic reference depends on an interpreter and is shaped by language-specific experiences.

(This work was realized within the project group at the Collaborative Research Centre: Ludwig Jäger: Mediality and signs of language III - semiological agency.)

Iconic text strategies: path, sorting & weighting, kaleidoscope

Friedrich Ungerer

This paper takes the iconic approach to text interpretation beyond the traditional perspectives of iconic sequencing, iconic proximity and quantitative iconicity by claiming that for our comprehension of texts strategies we depend on the holistic or gestalt transfer from complex natural or human action patterns. Pursuing this line the article not only presents prototypical examples (guidebooks and manuals for the path strategy, the top-down structure of news stories for the sorting & weighting strategy and lyrical poems for the kaleidoscope strategy), but also discusses examples of strategy blends and strategy incorporation, focussing on the relationship between individual episodes and overarching strategies found in films such as Les favoris de la lune, Short cuts, Night on Earth and Italiensk for Begyndere.

‘Damn mad’: Palindromic figurations in literary narratives       

Christina Ljungberg    

Palindromes are chiastic figurations that arrest the habitual tempo-linear sequence of language and, in so doing, focus attention on the very act of signification. In narrative, they often prove pivotal for the overall structure of the text, going far beyond mere wordplay or verbal virtuosity. Because they can be read both backwards and forwards, palindromes emerge as multilayered, multidirectional, and polytemporal mappings reflecting the notorious instability of human lives, where the ever shifting present oscillates between the past and the future. In contemporary fiction, such palindromic vacillation becomes an iconic representation of temporal shifting, allowing us to discern the texture of temporality, not as abstractly conceived but as concretely lived and hence as innovatively performing an unstable present.

Part V: Iconicity and structure

Iconicity and the Grammar – Lexis Interface

Dylan Glynn    

This study examines the proposal in Cognitive Grammar (Langacker 1987, Talmy 2000) that grammatical classes are iconically motivated. The discussion follows a case-study to test this hypothesis. Using found data, we examine the productivity of a range of grammatical classes across Dutch, English, and German. The study bases its analysis on the lexical concept of precipitation. The perceptual and universal nature of such a concept should be a best-case scenario for iconic motivation of grammatical classes. However, despite this, the test case produces mixed results. Although the hypothesis is not disproved, we reveal how it cannot, alone, explain the vagaries of lexical – class grammaticality.

Iconicity in the coding of pragmatic functions: The case of disclaimers in  argumentative discourse

Angelika Bergien

This study takes a look at the more abstract and relational form of diagrammatic iconicity. Based on previous research of the discourse-pragmatic level, the paper shows that an understanding of the complex relation between structure, function and context in specific genres may help to provide insight into those phenomena which have traditionally been described as disclaimers. By using disclaimers speakers predefine problematic events for others in order to forestall negative retypification. On the basis of the present study it can be concluded that in spoken everyday interaction disclaimers are used as responses to virtual offences. In written argumentative political discourse, however, they are both: a reaction to real offences and a prevention of further negative evaluation. They are to a large extent transparent and thus iconic in that their use resembles people's activities and behaviour in conflicting situations.

Double negation and iconicity   

Luodovic de Cuypere, Johan van der Auwera and Klaas Willems

Typological research suggests that double negation − the use of two negative markers to denote one negative meaning − is a popular strategy amongst a wide variety of languages. This paper focuses on two types of double negation. The first type, exemplified by Fr. Je ne chante pas ‘I don’t sing’, consists of a discontinuous sentence negator. The second type consists of a sentence negator and a negative indefinite pronoun or adverb as in I don’t see nothing. Iconicity is in the first type related to the language change known as Jespersen’s Cycle leading towards the double negative structure. The second type is arguably one of two possible strategies to avoid the less iconic use of a negative indefinite pronoun.  


Part VI: Iconicity and multimedia / intertextuality

Iconicity in multimedia performance: Laurie Anderson’s White Lily

Sibylle Moser

This paper analyses the complexity of intermedial iconicity through the analysis of Laurie Anderson’s piece “White Lily”. It reveals the media aesthetic strategies by which Anderson enacts the abstract concept of time through the iconic use of language as well as through iconicity in music, gesture and computer animation. The performer’s multimodal enactment of time experience demonstrates the integration of iconic, indexical and symbolic forms of representation. The semiotic analysis of the example is based on Sebeok and Danesi’s modeling systems theory and the concept of “embodied cognition” brought forth by authors like Varela, Thompson and Rosch and Lakoff and Johnson. Thus, Anderson’s performance illustrates the tenets of a corporeal media theory that introduces the body as the founding medium of semiosis.