Fischer, Olga, and Max N�nny, ed. (2001) The Motivated Sign: Iconicity
in Language and Literature 2. John Benjamins Publishing Company,
xiv+387pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-003-6 (US), 90-272-2574-5 (Europe),
Oana Jan, University of Rouen, France
This volume collects seventeen articles given at the second
international and interdisciplinary symposium on Iconicity in Language
and Literature held in Amsterdam in 1999. It is the sequel to Form
Miming Meaning: Iconicity in Language and Literature (Benjamins 1999),
which gathered papers offered at the first conference on iconicity held
in Zurich in 1997.
As the editors show in their 'Introduction' to The Motivated Sign, the
purpose of both conferences was not primarily of a theoretical nature.
Although semiotic, linguistic and literary theory had an important role
to play, the symposia and the papers aimed mainly at challenging
"Saussure's dogma of arbitrariness" - as Roman Jakobson put it (1960) -
through case studies showing how the iconicity works on all levels of
language in literary texts and in all kinds of verbal discourse.
They encourage the reader to report to the 'Introduction' to Form
Miming Meaning (pp. xv-xxxiv) for an explanation of what they and the
authors of the papers understand by the term "iconicity". The reader
will also find there (pp. xxff.) the criteria that allow a
differentiation between the man types of iconicity, especially the
distinction between "imagic" and "diagrammatic" iconicity. A further
differentiation is introduced by Winfried N�th in The Motivated Sign
between "exophoric" and "endophoric" iconicity, two concepts that some
other contributors used in their articles.
The editors take the time to illustrate some iconic uses of language by
means of an example, namely Julius Caesar's famous phrase veni, vidi,
vici. They use this phrase as a pretext to review a number of theories
and approaches in language iconicity theory. The conclusion of this
demonstration is that iconicity has it's real place in the theory of
language. They show that although the iconic features occur in a
medium, namely language, whose sign system is basically arbitrary,
iconicity is definitely an important feature of literature, especially
A large part of the 'Introduction' consists of the detailed
presentation of the seventeen articles of the volume, grouped in five
parts. Part I - General contains papers of a more theoretical or
general nature by Winfried N�th, John J. White and William J.
Herlofsky. Part II - Sounds and Beyond includes three articles by Piotr
Sadowsky, Ralf Norrman and Earl R. Anderson on iconically motivated
sounds and onomatopoeia. Part III - Visual iconicity and the use of
images deals with iconicity on the visual, especially the graphemic
level, assembling the essays of Anne C. Henry, Max N�nny, Robbie H. Goh
and Loretta Innocenti. Part IV - Iconicity in grammatical structures,
is especially interested in how far conventional word order may have an
iconic background or be manipulated so the it becomes iconically
meaningful. It contains the contributions of C. Jac Conradie, Olga
Fischer, Frank Jansen and Leo Lentz and that of Jean-Jacques Lecercle.
Part V - Iconicity in textual structures, is related with Part IV in
that they both deal with textual structure. In Part V the emphasis is
on structure in literary texts, illustrated by Wolfgang G. Muller,
Werner Wolf and Christina Ljungberg.
An encouragement for further studies into the motivated sign in
language and literature closes the 'Introduction', followed by a series
of notes and bibliographical references.
Part I - General
The first article of this section, Winfried N�th's 'Semiotic
foundations of iconicity in language and literature', is the only
purely semiotic study of this collection. In his essay, the author
begins by drawing the reader's attention on some facts in semiotic
theory. He reminds us that Peirce's teory of signs is triadic and not
dichotomic as often assumed, and that iconicity scales from pure or
genuine icons to hypo-icons. N�th's original contribution is the
distinction he operates between 'exophoric' and 'endophoric' iconicity,
the latter standing for 'form miming form'.
The second article of Part I, 'The semiotics of the mise-en-ab�me' by
John White, is an historical investigation on this particular literary
device. He discusses, ranging through American, French and German
literature, whether the mise en ab�me may be seen as an example of
iconicity. In his conclusion, he summarises the variety of functions of
the device, from didactic, prophetic and cognitive to mystifying and
In his article Good probes : Icons, anaphors and the evolution of
language, William J. Herlofsky draws a possible scenario for the
evolution of language from a pre-symbolic system to a system which
gradually made more and more use of arbitrary grammatical signs. He
uses Chomsky's theory of Binding Principles to show how anaphora and
referential expressions could have arisen from real-world-space
Part II - Sounds and beyond
Piotr Sadowsky is, in his article 'The sound as an echo to the sense :
The iconicity of English gl- words', interested in the role played by
iconicity in the evolution of the English lexicon. He takes for his
study the group of words beginning with -gl in English, showing that
these words form a coherent group referring to closely related semantic
fields both diachronically and cross-linguistically. According to
Sadowski's study, this grouping suggests some iconic motivation, which
seems to be language-specific.
The essay by Ralf Norrman 'On natural motivation in metaphors : The
case of cucurbits' aims at showing the strong relation between the
tenor and the vehicle in the case of the metaphorical use of the
cucurbits in many cultures and languages, as well as the phonological
iconicity of their names. The author supports both these points with
examples from a great number of languages.
The last article of Part II, 'Old English poets and their Lain sources:
Iconicity in C�dmon's Hymn and The Phoenix' by Earl R. Anderson, deals
with a number of types of iconicity the author has found in medieval
English literature. He notes the onomatopoeic variety produced by the
scribal substitution, as well as the syntactic iconicity in C�dmon's
Hymn. A large part of the essay is dealing with the Old English
translation of the anonymous Latin poem Carmen de ave phoenice, known
as The Phoenix. Anderson demonstrates how the translation makes use of
sound-symbolic devices to enrich the text of the sensory experience the
Latin text is deprived of.
Part III - Visual iconicity : Typography and the use of images
In her article on 'Iconic punctuation : Ellipsis marks in a historical
perspective' , Anne C. Henri investigates the iconic value of the
ellipsis mark. She shows that for the last four hundred years, the
variant graphic forms of ellipsis have evolved in direct response to
the evolution of literary and artistic preoccupations, as well as the
that of economic conditions. The author pleads for a detailed and
pragmatic analysis of punctuation as symptoms of the social and
historical conditions that brought them into being, as well as signs of
the 'art' of printing.
Max N�nny investigates another typographic aspect of the iconic use of
the visual text length in his essay on the 'Iconic functions of long
and short lines'. Using seventeenth- and eighteenth-century poets as
Milton, Dryden and Pope, the author looks at the iconic functions of
the visually long and short lines, from a metaphorical and diagrammatic
point of view, separately and comparatively.
The author of Iconicity in advertising signs: Motive and method in
miming 'the body'', Robbie B. H. Goh, shows how advertising uses
symbolic, indexical and iconic signs related to 'the body', to the
material world. He illustrates how the shape and orientation of the
advertisement may suggest socio-economic aspirations, especially when
it is directed towards the youth market.
Loretta Innocenti's contribution on 'Iconoclasm and iconicity in
seventeenth-century English poetry' is concerned with the absence of
visual images, in the context of the theological controversy over the
use of images opposing the iconoclastic Reformation to the iconophile
Counter Reformation. She uses poems from Milton and Donne to show how
poetry tends to represent immaterial objects by having recourse to
iconicity, namely to conceptual or verbal iconic forms, even when
images and visual representation are rejected.
Part IV - Iconicity in grammatical structures
Jac Conradie's article on 'Structural iconicity: The English -S- and
OF-genitives' aims to find out to what extent the particular form of
the genitive reflects a natural or iconic word order. He suggests that
the s-genitive with an agentive subject mirrors the S(ubject) V(erb)
O(bject) word order. The SVO order can be seen as a structurally iconic
order mirroring an activity-based narrative or temporal order which he
names the Event Model. As English has developed from a basic SOV
language into a basic SVO language, the Old English object-genitive is
now expressed by an iconic of-construction.
'The position of the adjective in (Old) English from an iconic
perspective' by Olga Fischer addresses another syntactic issue. She
shows that the position of the adjective, when variable, may be
iconically motivated in that the linear order of adjective and noun
determines the meaning of a noun phrase. She supports this meaning
difference by contrasting Old and Modern English, where the fixed place
of the adjective determined phonological iconicity.
Frank Jansen and Leo Lentz, the authors of 'Present participles as
iconic expressions' deal with the more pragmatic issue of the choices
left to writers of Dutch cookery books when they need to express the
simultaneity of two or more actions. They show that the defective
nature of the present participles makes it reflect iconically the
status of a subordinated instruction.
In his article entitled 'Of Markov hains and upholstery buttons : "Moi,
madame, votre chien ..."', Jean-Jacques Lecercle faces the impossible
translation of "distortion" of emotional, iconic syntax. He argues that
the French sentence he chose to analyse is and is not a Markov chain,
for on one hand the meaning is progressively constructed along the
Markov chain of increasing determination while at the same time it is
only achieved with end-focus that projects it retrospectively along the
chain (Lacan's "upholstery button").
Part V - Iconicity in textual structures
Wolfgang G. M�ller's study on 'Iconicity and rhetoric : A note on the
iconic force of rhetorical figures in Shakespeare' aims at showing how
rhetorical iconicity may mirror perceptions and conceptions of reality
while other imitate emotional states, and other reflect logical
operations. M�ller uses in his article Winfried N�th's distinction
between 'endophoric' and 'exophoric' iconicity broadly understood to
analyse examples of rhetorical figures in Shakespeare's plays.
'The emergence of experiential iconicity and spatial perspective in
landscape descriptions in English fiction' by Werner Wolf is a
historical and broadly textual study of landscape description in
English fiction. He argues that if in the eighteenth century nature was
represented from an omniscient point of view, as an external and static
object, during the Romantic period landscape was presented as
paintings, from the perspective of a dynamic and involved viewer.
Christina Ljungberg discusses the 'Iconic dimensions in Margaret
Atwood's poetry and prose' showing how the author uses different iconic
techniques to suggest the idea of metamorphosis and rebirth, or the
palindromic mirror symmetry to mime the culturally constructed nature
of the way we perceive ourselves and the reality around us. Margaret
Atwood explores the relationship between form and content to make her
readers participate in the creation of meaning.
The volume collects seventeen articles on iconicity in language and
literature, grouped in five parts. It presents nowadays research in
language iconicity in several fields - broadly defined by the editors
as theoretical, phonetical, visual, grammatical and textual.
The authors attack arbitrariness mainly on the field of literature,
where the motivated sign is anchored in context - one of the
characteristics of the book, announced from the very beginning by its
editors, is the predominance of case studies over theoretical debate.
The single theoretical contribution is explained by the editors in
their introduction to the volume. As for the definition of what is
understood by the term 'iconicity', although the reader is invited to
report to Form Miming Meaning (1999), the presentation the editors
provide here in their 'Introduction' is clear and inspiring.
The papers collected here are very different in theme and object, their
heterogeneity providing the reader with a large view on the possible
uses of language iconicity theory. The same heterogeneity, which the
editors confess facing when trying to group the papers into the five
Parts, gives the impression of a multitude of approaches on a parcelled
field, where some essays are easier accessible than others.
Although there are some papers I personally enjoyed more than others,
as a whole, the book is convincingly challenging absolute arbitrariness
by the high quality and interest of each essay.
The title (The Motivated Sign... 2) and the editor's 'Introduction'
situate the volume as the second of a pair. The book will seem more
user-friendly to readers acquainted with Form Miming Meaning (1999),
since it follows the pattern set by it as to the division in five
Parts, and as to the terminology and the point of view adopted by the
I found very interesting the editor's presentation of the use of
language iconicity and of the situation of the study of iconicity in
language and literature from a broader linguistic point of view. It
provides a welcome initiation for non-specialist linguists (i.e.
The summaries are extensive and they allow the reader to a have an idea
of the actual content of the papers since they are extremely
The notes and references are positioned after every article, which is
an useful feature for all collection of disparate papers. The volume
has an author index and a subject index which are common to all
articles. A list of contributors is also published at the beginning of
the volume, containing the authors' postal and e-mail addresses, which
I found to be a researcher-friendly device. Finally, the
acknowledgements published in the volume as well as the dedication of
the book mention the loss of Ralf Norrman.
The Motivated Sign. Iconicity in Language and Literature 2 is a
definite success for the researchers in language iconicity. It should
also prove extremely useful to poetics researchers looking for the
definition and properties of literariness in language.
To all other linguists and literature students and researchers it is an
open window to each other's field and to motivated sign theory.
Chomsky, N. (1981) Lectures on Government and Biding, Dordrecht, Foris.
Jakobson, R. (1960) "Closing Statement : Linguistics and poetics" in
Style in Language, T. Sebeok, ed., 350-377, Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T.
N�nny, Max and Fisher, Olga ed. (2001) Form Miming Meaning. Iconicity
in Language and Literature, Amsterdam, Benjamins.
Peirce, C. S. (1931-58) Collected Papers, vols. 1-6, eds. C. Hartshorne
and P. Weiss, vols. 7-8, ed. A. W. Burks, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard
www.es.unizh.ch/iconicity - Olga Fischer and Max N�nny's website on
language and literary iconicity
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Oana JAN is a Ph. D. student in sociolinguistics at the University of