Iconic thinking and the contact-induced transfer of linguistic material

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Stated very simply iconic thinking is the ability to recognize similarities in different phenomena. This way of thinking can often lead to imitation and borrowing when languages come into contact, two important methods that languages have available to them for forming new words and enriching their lexicons. These methods, along with many others, are available to all languages, including sign languages. The present analysis describes how lexical borrowing and word-formation processes in Japan Sign Language (JSL) interact to expand JSL’s lexicon and grammar. The first portion of the analysis illustrates how the structures of words in spoken Japanese can be borrowed into JSL (and an interlanguage, Signed Japanese [SJ]) and then how this can influence the development and use of manual affixes for the transfer of meaning and syntactic relations. Can we imagine a golden age when all the words were young and…transparent…? If such an age existed, it was one of perfect harmony: things revealed their value in words, and words captured the most salient features of things. — Anatoly Liberman


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