Sign linguistics has always had to deal with the notion of iconicity because sign languages are much more iconic than vocal languages. Formal sign linguists have often tried to explain iconicity apart from descriptions of sign language, considering it as contradictory to the arbitrariness that must rule language organization as a natural consequence of the autonomy and the separateness of language. More recently, functional sign linguists have highlighted the presence of iconicity as a function of the peculiar visual-gestural modality of sign languages.

This article provides quantitative information on the incidence of iconicity in the lexicon of Italian Sign Language (LIS). It observes how the principles of arbitrariness govern the great amount of iconicity that occurs in the LIS lexicon. It also tries to interpret both the high incidence of iconicity and the necessary presence of arbitrariness as responses to a deep need for economy. In order to explain why the arbitrary organization of the LIS lexicon does not prevent a high incidence of iconicity, I propose a revisited notion of arbitrariness based on Saussure’s original formulation of arbitrariness.


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pp. 296-321
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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