A Trichotomic View of the Linguistic Sign: From the Distinction Between Hyponyms and Hypernyms to the Distinction Between Images and Ideas

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According to the theory of Baron and Herslund, English has a tendency to have names for collective concepts such as “chairs” and “bowls”, whereas French more or less consistently lacks names for collective concepts and, instead, has different names for different chairs and bowls. This observation is crucial and is not restricted to English and French nouns – when English uses one verb in an utterance, but Chinese more than one verb, we are dealing with the same distinction. All existing models of lexical semantics may contain tools to describe this distinction, but they lack tools to explain it. This is largely due to the fact that they are grounded in Saussure’s dichotomic view of symbols, i.e., as consisting of an expression unit and a content unit in which there is an arbitrary and conventional relationship between the two sides . However, if one adopts a trichotomic view, where there is one expression unit but two content units, called images and ideas, it becomes possible to explain the differences between English and French. Moreover, it becomes clear that “convention” and “arbitrariness” should be kept strictly apart, since they concern different sides of the linguistic sign.
Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Linguistica Hafniensia: International Journal of Linguistics
Issue numberSupplement 1
Pages (from-to)168-188
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 17 October 2023.


  • Symbol
  • Arbitrariness
  • Motivatedness
  • Convention

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