Iconicity in Saussure's linguistic work, and why it does not contradict the arbitrariness of the sign

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Abstract

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) is routinely criticized for denying the possibility of iconicity in language through his principle of the arbitrariness of linguistic signs. Yet two of his articles, one from the beginning (1877) and the other from the end (1912) of his career, propose analyses of the development of certain Latin verbs and adjectives in which iconicity plays a key role. Saussure did not dismiss iconicity, but limited its sphere of application to the relationship between signs and their referents, which falls outside linguistics as he defined it. Hence iconicity does not contradict arbitrariness, which applies to the relationship between signifier and signified within the linguistic sign.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-105
Number of pages31
JournalHistoriographia Linguistica
Volume42
Issue number1
Early online date31 Jan 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015

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