Experimental Semiotics (ES) is a burgeoning new discipline aimed at investigating in the laboratory the development of novel forms of human communication. Conceptually connected to experimental research on language use, ES provides a scientific complement to field studies of spontaneously emerging new languages and studies on the emergence of communication systems among artificial agents.
ES researchers have created quite a few research paradigms to investigate the development of novel forms of human communication. Despite their diversity, these paradigms all rely on the use of semiotic games, that is, games in which people can succeed reliably only after they have developed novel communication systems. Some of these games involve creating novel signs for pre-specified meanings. These games are particularly suitable for studying relatively large communication systems and their structural properties. Other semiotic games involve establishing shared meanings as well as novel signs to communicate about them. These games are typically rather challenging and are particularly suitable for investigating the processes through which novel forms of communication are created.
Considering that ES is a methodological stance rather than a well-defined research theme, researchers have used it to address a greatly heterogeneous set of research questions. Despite this, and despite the recent origins of ES, two of these questions have begun to coalesce into relatively coherent research themes.
The first theme originates from the observation that novel communication systems developed in the laboratory tend to acquire features that are similar to key features of natural language. Most notably, they tend (a) to rely on the use of symbols—that is purely conventional signs—and (b) to adopt a combinatorial design, using a few basic units to express a large number of meanings. ES researchers have begun investigating some of the factors that lead to the acquisition of such features. These investigations suggest two conclusions. The first is that the emergence of symbols depends on the fact that, when repeatedly using non-symbolic signs, people tend to progressively abstract them. The second conclusion is that novel communication systems tend to adopt a combinatorial design more readily when their signs have low degrees of motivation and fade rapidly.
The second research theme originates from the observation that novel communication systems developed in the laboratory tend to begin systematically with motivated—that is non-symbolic—signs. ES investigations of this tendency suggest that it occurs because motivation helps people bootstrap novel forms of communication. Put it another way, these investigations show that it is very difficult for people to bootstrap communication through arbitrary signs.
Interest in the linguistics of humor is widespread and dates since classical times. Several theoretical models have been proposed to describe and explain the function of humor in language. The most widely adopted one, the semantic-script theory of humor, was presented by Victor Raskin, in 1985. Its expansion, to incorporate a broader gamut of information, is known as the General Theory of Verbal Humor. Other approaches are emerging, especially in cognitive and corpus linguistics. Within applied linguistics, the predominant approach is analysis of conversation and discourse, with a focus on the disparate functions of humor in conversation. Speakers may use humor pro-socially, to build in-group solidarity, or anti-socially, to exclude and denigrate the targets of the humor. Most of the research has focused on how humor is co-constructed and used among friends, and how speakers support it. Increasingly, corpus-supported research is beginning to reshape the field, introducing quantitative concerns, as well as multimodal data and analyses. Overall, the linguistics of humor is a dynamic and rapidly changing field.
The Japanese psycholinguistics research field is moving rapidly in many different directions as it includes various sub-linguistics fields (e.g., phonetics/phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, discourse studies). Naturally, diverse studies have reported intriguing findings that shed light on our language mechanism. This article presents a brief overview of some of the notable early 21st century studies mainly from the language acquisition and processing perspectives. The topics are divided into various sections: the sound system, the script forms, reading and writing, morpho-syntactic studies, word and sentential meanings, and pragmatics and discourse studies sections. Studies on special populations are also mentioned.
Studies on the Japanese sound system have advanced our understanding of L1 and L2 (first and second language) acquisition and processing. For instance, more evidence is provided that infants form adult-like phonological grammar by 14 months in L1, and disassociation of prosody is reported from one’s comprehension in L2. Various cognitive factors as well as L1 influence the L2 acquisition process. As the Japanese language users employ three script forms (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) in a single sentence, orthographic processing research reveal multiple pathways to process information and the influence of memory. Adult script decoding and lexical processing has been well studied and research data from special populations further helps us to understand our vision-to-language mapping mechanism. Morpho-syntactic and semantic studies include a long debate on the nativist (generative) and statistical learning approaches in L1 acquisition. In particular, inflectional morphology and quantificational scope interaction in L1 acquisition bring pros and cons of both approaches as a single approach. Investigating processing mechanisms means studying cognitive/perceptual devices. Relative clause processing has been well-discussed in Japanese because Japanese has a different word order (SOV) from English (SVO), allows unpronounced pronouns and pre-verbal word permutations, and has no relative clause marking at the verbal ending (i.e., morphologically the same as the matrix ending). Behavioral and neurolinguistic data increasingly support incremental processing like SVO languages and an expectancy-driven processor in our L1 brain. L2 processing, however, requires more study to uncover its mechanism, as the literature is scarce in both L2 English by Japanese speakers and L2 Japanese by non-Japanese speakers. Pragmatic and discourse processing is also an area that needs to be explored further. Despite the typological difference between English and Japanese, the studies cited here indicate that our acquisition and processing devices seem to adjust locally while maintaining the universal mechanism.
Judith T. Irvine
In the indigenous sociolinguistic systems of West Africa, an important way of expressing—and creating—social hierarchy in interaction is through intermediaries: third parties, through whom messages are relayed. The forms of mediation vary by region, by the scale of the social hierarchy, and by the ways hierarchy is locally understood. In larger-scale systems where hierarchy is elaborate, the interacting parties include a high-status person, a mediator who ranks lower, and a third person or group—perhaps another dignitary, but potentially anyone. In smaller-scale, more egalitarian societies, the (putative) interactants could include an authoritative spirit represented by a mask, the mask’s bearer, a “translator,” and an audience. In all these systems, mediated interactions may also involve distinctive registers or vocalizations. Meanwhile, the interactional structure and its characteristic ways of speaking offer tropes and resources for expressing politeness in everyday talk.
In the traditions connected with precolonial kingdoms and empires, professional praise orators deliver eulogistic performances for their higher-status patrons. This role is understood as transmission—transmitting a message from the past, or from a group, or from another dignitary—more than as creating a composition from whole cloth. The transmitter amplifies and embellishes the message; he or she does not originate it. In addition to their formal public performances, these orators serve as interpreters and intermediaries between their patrons and their patrons’ visitors. Speech to the patron is relayed through the interpreter, even if the original speaker and the patron are in the same room. Social hierarchy is thus expressed as interactional distance.
In the Sahel, these social hierarchies involve a division of labor, including communicative labor, in a complex system of ranked castes and orders. The praise orators, as professional experts in the arts of language and communication, are a separate, low-ranking category (known by the French term griot). Some features of griot performance style, and the contrasting—sometimes even disfluent—verbal conduct of high-ranking aristocrats, carry over into speech registers used by persons of any social category in situations evoking hierarchy (petitioning, for example). In indigenous state systems further south, professional orators are not a separate caste, and chiefs are also supposed to have verbal skills, although still using intermediaries. Special honorific registers, such as the esoteric Akan “palace speech,” are used in the chief’s court. Some politeness forms in everyday Akan usage today echo these practices.
An example of a small-scale society is the Bedik (Senegal-Guinea border), among whom masked dancers serve as the visible and auditory representation of spirit beings. The mask spirits, whose speech and conduct contrasts with their bearers’ ordinary behavior, require “translators” to relay their messages to addressees. This too is mediated communication, involving a multi-party interactional structure as well as distinctive vocalizations.
Linguistic repertoires in the Sahel have long included Arabic, and Islamic learning is another source of high status, coexisting with other traditional sources and sharing some interactional patterns. The European conquest brought European languages to the top of West African linguistic hierarchies, which have remained largely in place since independence.
Aidan Pine and Mark Turin
The world is home to an extraordinary level of linguistic diversity, with roughly 7,000 languages currently spoken and signed. Yet this diversity is highly unstable and is being rapidly eroded through a series of complex and interrelated processes that result in or lead to language loss. The combination of monolingualism and networks of global trade languages that are increasingly technologized have led to over half of the world’s population speaking one of only 13 languages. Such linguistic homogenization leaves in its wake a linguistic landscape that is increasingly endangered.
A wide range of factors contribute to language loss and attrition. While some—such as natural disasters—are unique to particular language communities and specific geographical regions, many have similar origins and are common across endangered language communities around the globe. The harmful legacy of colonization and the enduring impact of disenfranchising policies relating to Indigenous and minority languages are at the heart of language attrition from New Zealand to Hawai’i, and from Canada to Nepal.
Language loss does not occur in isolation, nor is it inevitable or in any way “natural.” The process also has wide-ranging social and economic repercussions for the language communities in question. Language is so heavily intertwined with cultural knowledge and political identity that speech forms often serve as meaningful indicators of a community’s vitality and social well-being. More than ever before, there are vigorous and collaborative efforts underway to reverse the trend of language loss and to reclaim and revitalize endangered languages. Such approaches vary significantly, from making use of digital technologies in order to engage individual and younger learners to community-oriented language nests and immersion programs. Drawing on diverse techniques and communities, the question of measuring the success of language revitalization programs has driven research forward in the areas of statistical assessments of linguistic diversity, endangerment, and vulnerability. Current efforts are re-evaluating the established triad of documentation-conservation-revitalization in favor of more unified, holistic, and community-led approaches.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
The linguistic study of literature addresses the ways in which language is differently organized in verbal art (literature). Form is added to language, altered, attenuated, and differently grouped. These different kinds of organization are normatively subject to limits, some derived from limits on general or language-specific linguistic form. However, linguistic form can, in principle, be altered in any way at all, in avant-garde texts, for instance, or to produce artificial languages for literature; this possibility raises the general question of whether some organizations of literary language are cognitively transparent and others are cognitively opaque.
Of the various added forms, the most extensively studied has been metrical form, which requires the words of the text to be grouped into lines. Metrical form combines a non-linguistic counting system with a rhythmic system, which adapts the rhythmic systems of ordinary phonology. The metrical line may have a special status, as a cognitively privileged level of grouping, possibly because it is fitted to working memory. Rhyme and alliteration are two common kinds of added form; most linguistic interest has been in what counts as “similarity of sound” between two words, whether at a surface or underlying level. Rhyming and alliterating words are distributed relative to the grouping into lines and other constituents. The other major kind of added form is parallelism, where two sections of text are structurally similar, usually in syntax and vocabulary.
All literary texts have a discourse structure, which includes division into various types of group or constituent, including the division of a narrative into episodes, exploiting verbal cues of episodic boundaries. Narratives also require the tracking of referents such as people and objects across the discourse, which draws on the study of pronominals. Literary texts may also have a distinctive vocabulary, borrowing or inventing words to an unusual degree, and engaging in various kinds of word play.
Literary texts have “style” and “markedness,” ways in which the language varies in noticeable ways but without coding a different linguistic semantics. These stylistic variations are sometimes treated as having determinate interpretations, but there are also approaches to stylistic variations in literature, which treat them as having a non-determinate relation to meaning. Literature cannot have a different semantics or pragmatics from ordinary language, but meaning can be “difficult” in literature in ways not characteristic of much ordinary language (but in common with ritual speech and other ways of speaking).
A major mode of linguistic investigation involves corpora, over which statistical analyses are undertaken. This has a relation to the question of whether our literary-linguistic knowledge has a probabilistic basis, a question that ties the study of language to questions of expectation in aesthetics (e.g., music) more generally. Literature exists in various modalities—writing, oral literature, and signed literature—and linguistic approaches to literature have been sensitive to this, as well as to the special questions about how texts are set to music in songs.
Relative clauses of which the predicate contains a present, past, or passive participle can be used in a reduced form. Although it has been shown that participial relative clauses cannot always be considered to be non-complete variants of full relative clauses, they are generally called reduced relative clauses in the literature. Since they differ from full relative clauses in containing a non-finite predicate, they are also called non-finite relative clauses. Another type of non-finite relative clause is the infinitival relative clause. In English, in participial relative clauses, the antecedent noun is interpreted as the subject of the predicate of the relative clause. Because of this restriction, the status of relative clause has been put into doubt for participial adnominal modifiers, especially, because in a language such as English, they can occur in pre-nominal position, whereas a full relative clause cannot. While some linguists analyze both pre-nominal and post-nominal participles as verbal, others have argued that participles are essentially adjectival categories. In a third type of analysis, participles are divided into verbal and adjectival ones. This also holds for adnominal participles. Besides the relation to full relative clauses and the category of the participle, participial relative clauses raise a number of other interesting questions, which have been discussed in the literature. These questions concern the similarity or difference in interpretation of the pre-nominal and the post-nominal participial clause, restrictions on the type of verb used in past participial relative clauses, and similarities and differences between the syntax and semantics of participial clauses in English and other languages. Besides syntactic and semantic issues, participial relative clauses have raised other questions, such as their use in texts. Participial relative clauses have been studied from a diachronic and a stylistic point of view. It has been shown that the use of reduced forms such as participial relative clauses has increased over time and that, because of their condensed form, they are used more in academic styles than in colloquial speech. Nonetheless, they have proven to be used already by very young children, although in second language acquisition they are used late, because their condensed form is associated with an academic style of writing. Since passive or past participles often have the same form as the past tense, it has been shown that sentences containing a subject noun modified by a post-nominal past or passive participle are difficult to process, although certain factors may facilitate the processing of the sentence.
Dániel Z. Kádár
Politeness comprises linguistic and non-linguistic behavior through which people indicate that they take others’ feelings of how they should be treated into account. Politeness comes into operation through evaluative moments—the interactants’ (or other participants’) assessments of interactional behavior—and it is a key interpersonal interactional phenomenon, due to the fact that it helps people to build up and maintain interpersonal relationships. The operation of politeness involves valences: when people behave in what they perceive as polite in a given situation, they attempt to enactment shared values with others, hence triggering positive emotions. The interactants use valenced categories as a benchmark for their production and evaluation of language and behavior, and valence reflects the participants’ perceived moral order of an interactional context/event, that is, their perceptions of ‘how things should be’ in a given situation. Thus, the examination of politeness reveals information about the broader in-group, social, and cultural values that underlie the productive and evaluative interactional behavior of individuals. As politeness is a social action that consists of both linguistic and non-linguistic elements and that embodies a social practice, the research of politeness also provides insights into the social practices that surround individual language use.
Pragmatics-based research on politeness started in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and has become one of the most popular areas in pragmatics. The field has undergone various methodological and theoretical changes. These include the “first wave” of politeness research, in the course of which researchers either attempted to model politeness across languages and cultures by using universal frameworks, or engaged in culture-specific criticism of such frameworks. In the “second wave” of politeness research, researchers attempted to approach politeness as an individualistic, and often idiosyncratic, interactionally co-constructed phenomenon. A key argument of the second wave is that politeness can only be studied at the micro-level of the individual, and so it may be overambitious to attempt to model this phenomenon across languages and cultures. In the “third wave” of politeness research, scholars attempt to model politeness across languages and cultures, without compromising the endeavour of examining politeness as an interactionally co-constructed phenomenon.
Key phenomena studied in politeness research include, among others, impoliteness, intercultural interaction, cross-cultural similarities and differences of politeness, the gendered characteristics of politeness behavior, and convention and ritual. Politeness research is a multidisciplinary field that is engaged in the examination of a wide variety of data types.
Agustin Vicente and Ingrid Lossius Falkum
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
Polysemy is characterized as the phenomenon whereby a single word form is associated with two or several related senses (e.g., run a marathon, run some water, run on gasoline, run a store, etc.). It is distinguished from monosemy, where one word form is associated with a single meaning, and homonymy, where a single word form is associated with two or several unrelated meanings, represented as different lexemes (e.g., bank). Although the distinctions between polysemy, monosemy, and homonymy may seem clear at an intuitive level, they have proven difficult to draw in practice. For instance, none of the linguistic tests devised for this purpose give clear-cut answers, either because they are context-sensitive (sometimes, only a slight manipulation of the context may give rise to a different sense), or because they do not track the intuitive distinctions, identifying some kinds of polysemy as monosemy and others as instances of homonymy.
Polysemy proliferates in natural language: virtually every word is polysemous to some extent. Still, the phenomenon has been largely ignored in the mainstream linguistics literature, as well as in related disciplines. One notable exception is the cognitive linguistics framework, where polysemy has played an important role in theorizing from the outset. However, it is only recently that polysemy has been seen as a topic of relevance to linguistic and philosophical debates regarding lexical meaning representation, compositional semantics, and the semantics-pragmatics divide.
Early accounts treated polysemy in terms of sense enumeration: each sense of a polysemous expression is stored as an individual representation in the lexicon (this approach has been called the Sense Enumeration Lexicon, or SEL, for short). Polysemy and homonymy are treated on a par, both being resolved by language users selecting a sense from among the list of lexically stored senses, which then feeds into the semantic composition process.
The SEL approach has been strongly criticized on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Today, most researchers converge on the hypothesis that the senses of at least many polysemous expressions derive from a single meaning representation. One contemporary debate revolves around the status of this representation: Are the lexical representations of polysemous expressions informationally scarce and under-specific with respect to their different senses? Or do they have to be informationally rich in order to store and be able to generate all these polysemous senses? Alternatively, are senses computed from a literal, primary meaning via semantic or pragmatic mechanisms such as coercion, modulation, or ad hoc concept construction?
A related issue that has recently attracted interest is how polysemy is generated or constructed in the course of discourse, a question that has important implications for accounts of semantic change. If this process is not entirely arbitrary (i.e., the senses are related to each other in semi-predictable ways), what are the underlying mechanisms? While it is widely agreed that two important sources of polysemy are metaphor and metonymy, the question of what consequences the source of a polysemy may have (if any) for lexical representation and sense activation remains a largely unexplored question.