Iconicity in Language and Literature 9.   

Edited by Jac Conradie, Ronel Johl,  Marthinus Beukes, Olga Fischer and Christina Ljungberg

Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2010.

Table of contents
Preface and acknowledgements vii
List of contributors ix
Introduction: Signergy
Ronél Johl, Jac Conradie and Marthinus Beukes

Part I. Theoretical approaches

Literary practices and imaginative possibilities: Toward a pragmatic understanding of iconicity

Vincent Colapietro

Adopting a pragmatic approach to iconicity, this paper focuses on literary practices as imaginary undertakings, thus practices bound up with the projection of possibilities.  Literary texts need not claim as their raison d’ętre anything more than the projection and exploration of diverse forms of possibility.  The exhibition of such forms is intimately linked to the iconic features of literary texts.  At the same time, in exhibiting the barely imaginable, they frequently embody traces of brute actuality and intimations of elusive significance.  Thus, the work of iconic signs is, in literary texts, characteristically conjoined to that of indices and symbols.  Moving from this level of generality to the way such texts work, in particular, to some of the iconic functions in literature, I will consider, above all else, the diagrammatic function of literary texts.  Here, the sentences inscribed across a page are at once verbal diagrams and, in however attenuated a form, spatial diagrams.  As diagrams of such a hybrid character, they are capable of presenting spatial, temporal, and other relationships, though the spatial features of such verbal diagrams often bear anything but a straightforward relationship to their imaginable objects.  Such inscribed diagrams are spatial figurations in which the most salient features of spatiality are in certain respects exploited and, in other respects, effaced or, at least, suspended.  A number of examples from literature (including texts by Henry James, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, among others) are used to substantiate these claims.

The bell jar, the maze and the mural: Diagrammatic figurations as textual performance
Christina Ljungberg

The practices and processes by which various forms of signs are generated, for example, the cartographical procedure by which maps are drawn, more generally, the diagrammatic ones by which networks of relationships are iconically represented, are themselves performances (maps are always both the result of mappings and the impetus for re-mappings).  Literary texts provide us with unique resources for exploring, among other matters, the performative dimensions of these complex procedures, turning them into stages on which subjectivity is played out. Looking at texts by John Banville (The Sea), Carole Shields (Larry’s Party) and Michael Ondaatje (In the Skin of a Lion), I will argue that diagrammatic figurations in narrative texts involve not only performance and performativity but also strongly enhance the complex interaction between narrativity and visuality as they transform the text into a stage on which textual activity is performed, 1) as a dramatic dialogue between writer, text and reader and 2) in the dramatic and visual positionings of agents within the text itself. Three kinds of textual performance of subjectivity can be discerned in the diagrammatic figurations in these three novels: on the diegetic level, as the subjectivity performed by the characters and, especially, the narrators as instances of performativity that is established and maintained in relation to both author and reader; on the level of the author, whose subjectivity is textually performed as self-expression; finally, on the level of reception, as the subjectivity of the reader is itself established performatively in the act of reading.   

Iconicity as meaning miming meaning, and meaning miming form
Lars Elleström

Iconicity consists of mimetic relations between form and meaning. This article is based on the notion of ‘spatial thinking’ and it is argued that there is no form without meaning, and that all meaning has some sort of form. Two fundamental distinctions are used. The first is Charles Sanders Peirce’s well-known division into three types of iconicity: image, diagram, and metaphor, which is extended to include ‘weak’ and ‘strong diagrams’. The second is a distinction between ontologically different appearances of signs: visual material signs, auditory material signs, and complex cognitive signs. A two-dimensional model illustrating the relations between these two distinctions is presented. The model is based on the assumption that iconicity, to a certain extent, is gradable, and it shows that the field of iconicity includes many phenomena that are not generally seen as related, but that nevertheless can be systematically compared. It also shows, among other things, that the ‘metaphor’ and the ‘weak diagram’ are singled out by the capacity of miming across the borders both between the visual and the auditory, and between the material and the mental. The main argument of the article is that iconicity should be understood not only as “form miming meaning and form miming form”, but also as “meaning miming meaning and meaning miming form”.

A view from the margins: Theoretical contributions to an understanding of iconicity from the Afrikaans-speaking research community
Ronél Johl

The focus of this essay is the little known contribution to the field of literaracy iconicity by Afrikaans literary theorists in the seventies and eighties in South Africa, especially the research done by H.C.T. Müller. The rationale for this is my contention that the theory of literary iconicity put forward by Müller might be used both to shed light on some of the problems that contemporary iconicity theorists, like Paul Bouissac and others, experience with aspects of the current research conducted within the framework of the (New) Iconicity Research Project and to perhaps point the way to a consolidation of current views in a comprehensive theory of iconicity .

Part II. Visual iconicity

Iconic and indexical elements in Italian Futurist poetry: F. T. Marinetti’s “words-in-freedom”
John J. White

This paper offers close readings of canonical works of Italian Futurist visual poetry, focussing on the fusion, for propaganda purposes, of radical forms of visual and acoustic iconicity with politicized modes of indexicality. A detailed contextual interpretation of a milestone iconic-cum-indexical device in F. T. Marinetti’s war epic Zang tumb tumb (1914) serves as an introduction to Futurism’s preoccupation with the advantages of exploiting ingenious new forms of semiosis for their nationalist impact. Subsequent commentaries on four shaped war-poems by Marinetti bring out the variety of ways in which iconic representations of battle experience are harnessed to Italy’s Irredentist and Interventionist causes. The poems’ impressive arsenal of iconic effects is shown to reinforce their indexical function as war-reportage, while Marinetti’s dual authority as renowned modernist poet and eyewitness to a number of historically prestigious battles underwrites Italian Futurism’s patriotic campaign to persuade fellow countrymen to abandon their neutralist stance. 

Taking a line for a walk: Poetic contour drawings and contoured poems
Heilna du Plooy

In this article various aspects of iconicity in three poems by the Afrikaans poet T.T. Cloete are analysed and discussed. In the poems the poet uses words to describe a line which "draws" the outline of an object. This technique is interpreted as a referred form of referentiality which transfers attention from the (referential) object to the poetic interpretation of the object in the poem and to the poem itself. Apart from the diagrammatic iconicity in the use of a "represented" diagram, the technical complexity of the poems also suggest the use of imagic and metaphoric iconicity on account of the use of typographical features as well as literary and cultural allusions. Using Lotman's distinction between the semantic, the poetical and the cultural aspects of semantic value, the poems are analysed and interpreted. The main aim of the article is to indicate the ways in which iconic features, on the linguistic, poetical and cultural level, add to the ability of poems to generate multilayered meaning.

Iconicity and naming in E. E. Cummings’s poetry
E. E. Cummings’s poetry
Etienne Terblanche

Moving on from a visual-iconic emphasis in the study of the i-o dance in E. E. Cummings’s poetry (Terblanche and Webster  2007),  this chapter shifts the focus to a sound-symbolizing element of that dance, in tandem with its iconic features.  Reading Cummings’s poems “anyone lived in a pretty how town” and “my father moved through dooms of love” among others, the chapter shows how Cummings uses sounds such as [ʌI] and [əʊ] to intimate a movement from isolation, individuality, and “lightness” into a movement of integration, deeper selfhood, and greater resonance and reverberation in the natural world.  This is a complex poetic example of what Brent Berlin terms size-sound symbolism.  Based on this finding, the chapter finds further that arbitrariness in Cummings (such as isolating the lower case “i”) serves to enhance motivation (such as miming dynamic integration within a larger “o”-world of being).  Evidently, this further involves a certain inseparability of what Max Nänny terms imagic and diagrammatic forms of iconicity: “i” mimes smallness, uprightness, and the joy of a dot jumping out imagically, while this goes on to indicate entrance into a sense of movement, growth, and being (as embodied not only in “O” but also in the semiotic movement “into” it)—a movement which is in the nature of diagrammatic iconicity.  The chapter concludes that arbitrariness and motivation end up in loops of enhancement in the case of Cummings, contrary to the current stock response that language is only or nearly only arbitrary.  

Bunyan and the physiognomy of the Wor(l)d
Matthias Bauer

In the “Apology” that prefaces The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan defended himself against those who criticized him, on religious grounds, for the use of lively fictions by pointing out that the Bible itself is full of figurative elements. This is more than just a defence, however, for the Bible, to Bunyan, is actually a manual for reading the world figuratively. There is an iconic relationship between the Book of Books and the Book of Nature; an object found in the world becomes a sign when it is used figuratively in the Bible. Bunyan’s own allegorical fiction serves to point up this relationship and is an example of such a combinatory reading. Christian has to read the faces, names and utterances of the people he meets on his road in order to discover their meaning. In this process, indexical signs, such as a person’s blushing, are discovered to be part of an iconic concept; a case in point is Mercy, whose face, regarded in the mirror of Scripture, makes manifest its divine likeness.

From icon to index and back: A 16th century description of a “sea‑bishop”
C. Jac Conradie

A fish caught off the coast of Poland in the 15th century with the appearance and mannerisms of a bishop and therefore a possible “sign” given to man by the Creator is interrogated by the bishops and king of Poland and almost incarcerated because of its inability to speak, but finally set free in the sea. Looked upon as a sign, the resemblance as such of the fish to a bishop may be described as an iconic image, while the endeavour to determine whether it also has the other attributes of a true bishop,  is implicitly aimed at determining whether the fish is not indexically related to what may be a bishop in creed and character. In view of  the patently non-human exterior of the creature, the search has to focus on the intrinsic characteristics of a bishop, and the superficial iconic relationship between signifier and signified is deepened to the question whether a causal or indexical relationship can be found. As this cannot be shown, the fish is released on the understanding that its resemblance to a bishop is iconic and no more.

The poem as icon of the painting: poetic iconicity in Johannes Vermeer and Tom Gouws
Marthinus Beukes

The focus of this paper is to investigate the poetic expression of a painting as it is transposed into a poem. Such an interaction between the verbal and the visual text results in what Simonides of Ceos describes as  “poema pictura loquens, pictura poema silens” - the poem is a speaking painting, the painting is a silent poem. How does the poem become such a depiction or representation of the painting? Assuming that the poem contributes to the significance of the painting by adding additional layers of  meaning to it, the iconic aspects in the poem text therefore suggest the painting’s content as its visual embodiment. In the following discussion, I will argue that the iconic meaning-making processes taking place in Tom Gouws’s (2010) Vermeer poems function as a meta-language of the paintings. I will suggest a descriptive framework for delineating the iconic processes that are present in and around Gouws’s poetic texts in order to try to show that the poet not only explores the painting’s visual text but also investigates and confronts language iconically in several of his poems based on Vermeer’s paintings, e.g. “The Astronomer”, “The Geographer”, “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”, '”Lady Weighing Pearls” and “The Men of Vermeer”. This comes however particularly to the fore in his poem “The lacemaker'” which will be read in conjunction with another of Gouws’s proems, “ars poetica”. These two poems will be read as verbal figurations of visual writing through which a particular kind of iconic narrative is established.

Part III. Iconicity and historical change

Iconicity and etymology

Anatoly Liberman

Etymologists constantly deal with iconicity, for sound symbolic and sound imitative words are numerous in all languages. However, reference to sound symbolism becomes a usable tool of reconstruction only when the nature of the symbol has been revealed and as long as the origin of attested words is not confused with the origin of language. Onomatopoeia is based on direct observation; yet it is sometimes indistinguishable from sound symbolism. While coining words, people strive for iconicity, but the ways to achieve it are many, and chance rather than necessity determines the results. As a general rule, sound symbolism is indirect, being an almost indefinable, semi-instinctive phonetic response to a word’s meaning. Recognition of iconicity does not abolish the idea of an arbitrary (conventional) linguistic sign. Every new coinage is motivated, but time tends to make the initial impulse opaque. To the extent that we avoid sweeping generalizations and shortcuts, the Neo-Grammarian algebra and a semiotic approach to language history are an etymologist's allies and are complementary rather than mutually exclusive.

Iconicity typological and theological: J. G. Hamann and James Joyce
Strother Purdy

The extensive writings on language of the Prussian “pansemiotician” Johan Georg Hamann (1730-1788) provide a rich field for inquiry. The icon of breathing in his "New Apology for the Letter H" is satirical yet finally theological in a richly allusive manner. Only 150 years later, in the form of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, its iconicity equally unexplored,  would appear a work of  genius as abtruse, its author as myriadminded and delighted with bawdy as Hamann. Within it lies another iconical “H”, the first initial of its omnifarious hero, equally concerned with breathing and the soul. Nothing in literary history formed the link we can see here; it is a matter of iconicity pure and simple. 

An iconic, analogical approach to grammaticalization
Olga Fischer

This paper addresses a number of problems connected with the ‘apparatus’ used in grammaticalization theory. It will be argued that we get a better grip on what happens in processes of grammaticalization (and its ‘opposite’ lexicalization) if the process is viewed in terms of analogical processes, which are part of our general cognitive abilities.  These analogical processes are connected with the modes of iconic and indexical thinking, which are prior to and underlie the mode of symbolic thinking (cf. Deacon 1997). I will make use of a simple analogical or usage-based grammar model, in which a distinction is made between processes taking place on a token level and those taking place on a type level. The model also involves taking more notice of the form of linguistic signs and of the synchronic grammar system at each stage of the grammaticalization process. This model will then be used on a classic example of grammaticalization (or subjectification), involving the modal verbs in the history of English. It will show that analogy lies at the basis of this grammaticalization process, and it will illustrate at the same time that the problems with scope, noted by Tabor and Traugott (1998), can also be dealt with if the process is seen as being steered by analogy.

Part IV. Iconicity and positionality

Iconic signs, motivated semantic networks, and the nature of
conceptualization: What iconic signing spaces can tell us about mental spaces
Bill Herlofsky

This chapter attempts to demonstrate how certain mental space images are structurally reflected intheir corresponding iconic signs in Japan Sign Language (JSL). Section one provides a general introduction, and section two offers a brief summary of the framework developed by Tyler and Evans (2001, 2003) for explaining the relationship among imagic proto-scenes, spatial scenes, and polysemy, used throughout the chapter. In section three, detailed illustrations of the polysemy network formed by such protoscenes for the English preposition 'over' are provided and then compared with numerous related JSL signs. In section four, it is conclud-ed that the proto-scenes proposed by Tyler and Evans appear to be reflected rather directly in the related iconic signs of JSL, providing indirect support for the existence of such imagic proto-scenes.


Iconicity and subjectivisation in the English NP: The case of little
Victorina González-Díaz


Through a corpus-based study of the behaviour of little (ME-PDE), the paper explores (a) the effect of processes of subjectivisation (vid. Smet and Verstaete 2001) on the syntactic configuration of the English NP and (b) how these latter relate to key iconicity postulates. More specifically, it suggests that, at least from the 19th century onwards, little has been developing ‘affix-like’ affective functions (e.g. a little minute) that appear to challenge the much-cited association between subjectivisation and leftward movement (cf. Adamson 2000) as well as asserting the role of cultural salience in iconically-driven processes of change.

Metrical inversion and enjambment in the context of syntactic and morphological structures: Towards a poetics of  verse
Wolfgang G. Müller

This paper looks at the interdependence of metrical and linguistic units, focussing on metrical inversion and enjambment. While metrical texts favour (diagrammatic) iconicity as a result of equivalence (repetition) on the level of stress, foot, verse, stanza etc., another source for iconicity is to be found in non-equivalent phenomena such as metrical inversion and enjambment. An example for inversion is the beginning of the first line of Keats' – "Much have I travelled in the realms of gold” – where metrical inversion coincides with syntactic inversion. The basis for enjambment is a discrepancy between metrical and syntactic structures, a discrepancy which may even affect morphology, as is the case at the beginning of Hopkins’ The Windhover, where the change of the lines results in cutting asunder a word: “king- / dom”. Having demonstrated, at the level of meter, the interaction of the principles of equivalence and non-equivalence – according to Jakobson a fundamental quality of poetic texts in general – the paper points the way towards a poetics of verse.

Part V. Iconicity and translation

Translation, iconicity, and dialogism

Susan Petrilli

Translation across languages is a specific case of translation across sign systems, internally and externally to the same historical-natural language. But translation across languages is possible on the basis of language understood as a modeling device, an a priori and condition for verbal language, which came into being for the sake of  communication thanks to the predominance of iconicity in the relation among signs. If we understand by a literary translation that is should be faithful to the original in terms of creativity and interpretation and not just be an imitation or repetition, the translatant text  the text that is the target of the translation must establish a relation of alterity with the source text. The greater the distancing in terms of dialogic alterity between two texts, the greater is the possibility of creating an artistic reinterpretation through another sign interpretant in the potentially infinite semiotic chain of deferrals from one sign to the next. If we approach translation from Charles S. Peirce’s general theory of signs, in particular his triad of icon, index and symbol, the relation between the source and the target text must be dominated by iconicity if a translation is to be successful in terms of creativity and interpretation. A translation must be at once similar and dissimilar, the “same other” (see Petrilli 2001). This is the paradox of translation. Therefore a text is at once translatable and untranslatable. This is the paradox of language.

Iconicity and developments in translation studies
Jacobus A. Naudé

A fundamental issue with reference to the translation process concerns the type of relation between the original and the translated text. Peirce indicates three possibilities: icon, index and symbol. For many scholars it is a given that the relation of similarity between the original text and the translated text predominates and that the iconic relation ordinarily describes the character of translation. However, evidence is provided in this paper to show from a theoretical viewpoint (i.e. from that of translation studies) and a practical viewpoint (with examples provided) that a relationship between source text and target text which is characterised as iconic can only be weakly iconic because a target text can never fully resemble its source text in every respect linguistically and culturally. Furthermore in certain cases an indexical or symbolic relationship rather than an iconic one may even predominate. Since the 1980s, discourses about translation have broadened steadily. An outflow of these developments is a greater understanding of the superordinate categories of translation and the fact that the relation between source and target text is no longer only one of resemblance (i.e. iconicity). An example of iconicity from the Koran and its translation is provided as evidence for a predominant, but weak iconic relationship between source text and target text. Examples from the Sesotho Bible translation and Das neue Testament illustrate that the predominant relationship can also be indexical or symbolic (rather than iconic), respectively.

Author index
Subject index