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date: 17 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

As words are the ultimate interfacers between the main components of the grammar, knowledge about a word includes knowledge about its syntactic, semantic, and phonological possibilities. This makes words the ultimate symbolic sign, the chief domain for the mapping of meaning to form. As such they heavily populate the world’s languages. Yet a cross-linguistic perspective reveals difficulties in standardizing their design and function. The kinds of information they encode and the structure they take on can be wildly various. Consequently they can be both ‘bad’ interfacers and ‘bad’ signs, challenging their universal status. But as lexicalized concepts, words constitute an important dividing line between animal communication systems and language. Word variation could be explained as a function of converting, in the act of speaking, multidimensional mind-internal propositional structures to an external one-dimensional serial channel. Subject to the forces of language use, change, and contact, words are universals of a fairly plastic kind.

Keywords: universals, interfacers, symbolic sign, meaning-to-form mapping, word design, word variation, morphology, typology, animal communication

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