What is the relationship between arbitrariness, as a property of language, and coinages? Because coinages are compound not-arbitrary words, do they not correspond to the particular property of language?

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    Welcome to Linguistics SE! Arbitrariness refers to relation between sound and meaning, and from this point of view compounds are just as arbitrary. What is (more or less) regular about them is the rules of combination and semantics of the relation between the parts. Nov 18 '15 at 13:23
  • Thanks for the information! I thought compounds were not arbitrary! So, motivated words are considered to be arbitrary?
    – V.Lydia
    Nov 18 '15 at 16:21
  • What is a 'motivated word'? Nov 19 '15 at 0:02
  • A motivated word is a new word or a new sense of an existed word. For instance, the word ''google'' which is now used as a verb.
    – V.Lydia
    Nov 21 '15 at 15:52

This is a good question because it reveals the problematic nature of the arbitrariness axiom in modern linguistics.

The relationship between sound and meaning is indeed arbitrary when you look across languages. What is dog in English is hund in German. What is 'pig' in English is 'Schwein' in German. There is no inherent relationship between them. When you put them together you get 'pigdog' and 'Schweinhund', and because the relationship between sound and meaning is arbitrary, you get a pig hunting dog in English and an insult in German. (Although calling someone a 'pigdog' in English is also insulting, it's not a very common one.) But even in the case of perfect calques, e.g. Czech časopis [magazine] is formed exactly to follow the form of the German Zeitschrift (lit. time-writing), the relationship between the sound and meaning is arbitrary cross-linguistically or even intralinguistically. The sound for magazine in both languages could have been totally different. This holds even for onomatopoeic words which are motivated by the referent but still fairly arbitrary across languages (e.g. compare the word for cock crowing across languages).

However, while this principle is obviously (axiomatically) correct, it is not very informative. Even Saussure (who first proposed it) noted that native speakers often associate the sounds with meanings as if they were natural. This was later confirmed by various research in phonosemantics. The logical arbitrariness co-exists with universal tendencies in sound meaning as well as language-internal processes of aesthetic associations between sounds and meanings. This is much more interesting and useful to study than the relatively uninformative arbitrariness axiom. Of course, it is important to remember that it was established in a context of theories proposing essentialist connections between sound and meaning which are easily disproven by the data.

The sort of thing you're describing is not usually a case of sound symbolism but simply the semantics of compounding which will always be somewhat motivated (although in many cases, the original meanings will be opaque to most speakers).

  • People view the link between the sound and meaning as natural because they've been trained to do so since the childhood. As linguist Pavel Eisner wrote in 1946, at the beginning of "Temple As Well As Fortress", we intuitively think that everyone has to speak Czech. After the folks in Paris and London fulfill their daily quotas of the difficult speech in French or English, they return home and begin to talk Czech like everyone else. ;-) Nov 30 '15 at 8:33

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