Exploring the Relationship Between Word Form and Word Meaning


Though a word may be the most intrinsic unit of language, it can be separated into 2 distinct components - form and meaning. The goal of this thesis is to explore how these 2 components are related, firstly by quantifying the form-meaning relationship itself though the use of statistical analysis, and secondly by examining potential explanations for such a relationship from a cultural evolution perspective by simulating language acquisition. The first strand of this thesis reveals that the form-meaning relationship is extremely arbitrary but more complex that reported in previous research, highlights potential flaws in previous methodologies, and provides direction for future work. The second strand of this thesis presents experimental and theoretical evidence which suggests that such arbitrariness may facilitate both language acquisition and use, thus providing partial explanation for the high degree of arbitrariness in the form-meaning relationship.


Supervised by Sharon Goldwater.