Notions of arbitrariness

Mind and Language 38 (4):1120-1137 (2022)
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Arbitrariness is a distinctive feature of human language, and a growing body of comparative work is investigating its presence in animal communication. But what is arbitrariness, exactly? We propose to distinguish four notions of semiotic arbitrariness: a notion of opaque association between sign forms and semiotic functions, one of sign‐function mapping optionality, one of acquisition‐dependent sign‐function coupling, and one of lack of motivatedness. We characterize these notions, illustrate the benefits of keeping them apart, and describe two reactions to our proposal: abandoning arbitrariness‐talk in favor of the newly introduced conceptual vocabulary, or feeding the distinctions back into the parent concept.



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Author Profiles

Luca Gasparri
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Hans-Johann Glock
University of Zürich
Piera Filippi
University of Vienna
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