Volume 23, Issue 1-2
  • ISSN 1387-9316
  • E-ISSN: 1569-996X
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Observations that iconicity diminishes over time in sign languages (Frishberg 1975) pose a puzzle: Why should something so evidently useful and functional decrease? Using an archival dataset of signs elicited over 15 years from 4 first-cohort and 4 third-cohort signers of an emerging sign language (Nicaraguan Sign Language), we investigated changes in pantomimic (body-to-body) and perceptual (body-to-object) iconicity. We make three key observations: (1) there is greater variability in the signs produced by the first cohort compared to the third; (2) while both types of iconicity are evident, pantomimic iconicity is more prevalent than perceptual iconicity for both groups; and (3) across cohorts, pantomimic elements are dropped to a greater proportion than perceptual elements. The higher rate of pantomimic iconicity in the first-cohort lexicon reflects the usefulness of body-as-body mapping in language creation. Yet, its greater vulnerability to change over transmission suggests that it is less favored by children’s language acquisition processes.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): iconicity; language emergence; Nicaraguan Sign Language; vocabulary
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