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Volume 34, 2017

Meaning and Publicity

Feng Li
Pages 181-196

Analyses on Arbitrariness of Chinese Characters from the Perspective of Morphology

The arbitrariness of a sign is considered a universal feature and a well-established property of the world’s languages by many linguists, which makes languages flexible and facilitates distinguishing the particular referents to words. However, there are some exceptions in the case of Chinese, a language quite different from western languages. This article analyzes Chinese’s arbitrariness mainly from the perspective of word formation and will show that Chinese characters, which were iconic originally, depart from this universal feature to a great extent. Through many transformations and changes, Chinese characters continue to display three features: iconicity, systematicity and arbitrariness.

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