This cross-linguistic study of lexical iconicity is based on a
genealogically stratified sample of 237 languages. The aim is to
contribute with an empirical study to the growing dialogue focusing
on different forms of lexical iconicity. The conceptual framework of
the present study is based on an analysis of types and means of
lexical iconicity in the sample languages. Archaeological and cultural
evidence are used to tie lexical iconicity to its context.
Phenomena related to lexical iconicity are studied both
cross-linguistically and language-specifically. The cognitive
difference between imitation and symbolism is essential. Lexical
iconicity is not only about the iconic relationship between form and
referents, but also about how certain iconic properties may become
conventional, means used to create sound symbolism.
All the sample languages show some evidence of lexical iconicity,
demonstrating that it is a universal feature. Nine comparisons of
onomatopoeic verbs and nouns, with samples varying between six and
141 languages, show that typologically highly different languages use
similar means for creating words based on sound imitation. Two
cross-linguistic comparisons of bird names demonstrate that a vast
majority of the Eurasian names of the common cuckoo and the world-
wide names of crow and raven of the 141 genera are onomatopoeic.