Network Core Mechanisms of Exponence

Haspelmath, Martin (2008)


Provocative target article for a special issue on iconicity. Haspelmath argues that three different types of iconicity which have been invoked as explanations for linguistic phenomena are themselves epiphenomenal: they are frequency effects. The 3 relevant types of iconicity are: Iconicity of Quantity ("Greater quantities in meaning are expressed by greater quantities of form, e.g. noun plurals tend to be longer than singulars), Iconicity of Complexity (‘‘More complex meanings are expressed by more complex forms’’, e.g. causative forms are coded by more complex forms than non-causatives since they are semantically more complex), and Iconicity of Cohesion (‘‘Meanings that belong together more closely semantically are ex- pressed by more cohesive forms.’’, e.g. inalienable possession is expressed by "more fused" morphology than alienable possession). Haspelmath claims that frequency is not only sufficient as an explanation of the relevamt typological data under the assumption that more frequent linguistic signs are generally shorter (e.g. frequency can explain that singular nouns are shorter than singular nouns because they are generally more frequent), but also necessary (plural noun forms tend to be shorter than dual noun forms because they are more frequent, but this cannot be derived by Iconicity of Quantity since dual forms denote smaller quantities than corresponding plural forms). (all citations from p.2)

authorHaspelmath, Martin
titleFrequency vs. iconicity in explaining grammatical asymmetries
journalCognitive Linguistics


    author = {Haspelmath, Martin },
    year = {2008},
    title = {Frequency vs. iconicity in explaining grammatical asymmetries},
    journal = {Cognitive Linguistics },
    volume = {19},
    number = {1},
    pages = {1-33},
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