How much does a word resemble what it refers to?
Spoken languages also have iconicity and arbitrariness. Many words are arbitrary, like rat. The word rat symbolizes a rat but does not resemble a rat–it’s an arbitrary symbol. In spoken languages, you can find iconicity most easily in words that describe sounds: onomatopoeias. Squeak, hiss, hiccup, beep, and splash sound like the noises they symbolize.
*This is separate from the study of word origin (etymology). If we trace the word couch, it comes from Old French coucher (to lay something down) from Latin collocare (to place together). Neither couch, nor coucher, nor collocare actually resemble the piece of furniture in any way – it’s arbitrary!
Erin is a Ph.D. student in the Bergelson lab at Duke University, where she studies how young children who are Deaf or blind learn language.