World Report

The 6th International Iconicity Symposium in Johannesburg

By Christina Ljungberg

Notes on the Sixth International Iconicity Symposium; Johannesburg, 1-4 April 2007.

Organized by Jac Conradie and Marthinus Beukes, University of Johannesburg (local organizers) and Olga Fischer and Christina Ljungberg (coordinators of the Iconicity Research Project), University of Amsterdam and University of Zurich.

In April, the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, opened its doors to host the Sixth Symposium on Iconicity in Language and Literature on the APK Campus (former Rand Afrikaans University), with the support of the Amsterdam Center of Language and Communication and the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAGW). Marking the tenth anniversary of this series of biennial international and interdisciplinary symposia, this year’s conference was also the first one to take place outside Europe – a trend which seems to continue, since the next symposium will be organized by Paul Bouissac at Victoria College, University of Toronto, in 2009. The previous symposia (Zurich 1997, Amsterdam 1999, Jena 2001, Louvain 2003 and Cracow 2005) have successfully provided evidence for the pervasive presence of iconicity (understood as form miming meaning and form miming form) in language and literature. Detailed linguistic case studies on iconicity have discussed iconicity as the driving force on all grammatical levels, in language acquisition and in language change while at the same time addressing the various mimetic uses of more concrete iconic images and diagrams on all levels of the literary text and in all varieties of discourse. Among the particular issues under investigation are besides literary, historical and political texts or the language of advertising also hybrid media such as language and music or literature and music, film and multimedia. Five volumes have issued from the previous conferences, all published by John Benjamins, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, in the series Iconicity in Language and Literature (ILL): Form Miming Meaning (1999), The Motivated Sign (2001), From Sign to Signing (2003), Outside-In– Inside-Out (2005), and Insistent Images (2007). A selection of this year’s conference contributions will appear in 2009 in the same series, in time for the Toronto conference.

A similar diversity of topics characterized this year’s symposium which, although smaller than the previous conferences owing to the remote location and security worries by several otherwise faithful participants, exhibited an interesting range of iconic features in both language and literature. Literary iconicity was the focus of the first day, which keynote speaker Vincent Colapietro (Pennsylvania State U.) opened with his paper “Literary Practices & Imaginary Possibilities” on the extent to which the interplay among imaginal, diagrammatic, and metaphorical signs produce the force and vitality of literary texts. These iconic functions are fulfilled as the author unfolds his narrative by conjoining sentences to one another in such a way that these sentences and their parts form verbal diagrams of dynamic relationships generating agential space, making them both cartographical and architectural sketches in close association with images and metaphors. Christina Ljungberg (Zurich) explored how diagrammatic figurations in literary texts perform not only the complex interactions among writer, reader and text but also the dramatic positionings within the text itself, as negotiations and strategic moves between responsive agents. Arguing that Peirce’s tripartite distinction of iconicity makes the diagram a very wide category compared to those of the image and the metaphor, Lars Elleström (Växsjö) proposed a distinction between “strong” and “weak” diagrams and suggested that iconicity should be understood not only as “form miming meaning and form miming form” but also as “meaning miming meaning and meaning miming form.” Matthias Bauer (Tübingen) examined Bunyan’s use of the physiognomy of the word to reject the idea that language may be anything but iconic. Bunyan’s strategy to provide his allegorical characters with a language that becomes an image of the persons themselves thus resonates with Calvin’s dictum that “we recognize him in his image, that is, in his word.” Hamman’s linguistic tour de force “New Apology for the Letter H” with its progress from the icon of breathing to ultimate mysteries was the topic of Strother Purdy’s (Bridgewater) excursion into the extraordinary pansemiotic, “theological” and literary universe of a precursor to both Sterne and Joyce. Axel Hübler (Jena) investigated the impact of tennis among the cultural practices of the 16th and 17th courtly culture and argued for its specific role in the context of the civilizing process: this becomes manifest in the metaphors drawing on the concept of the tennis match as a tournament which also include fight and war-like motifs. Franco Manai (Auckland) dealt with narrative discourse as a re-narration of icons in the case of The Gospel according to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago while Mechthild Betz analyzed the typographic and pictographic iconicity in Friederike Mayröcker’s experimental poetry.

“Iconicity and Etymology” was the topic and the title of the paper by the second keynote speaker Anatoly Liberman (Minnesota), who opened the linguistic section of the conference. Pointing out the marginal attention iconicity has been given in the literature on the history of language, he investigated the role of sound symbolism and onomatopoeia in word formation and the role of iconicity in the growth of language. Olga Fischer (Amsterdam) sketched an iconic, analogical approach to grammaticalization by addressing a number of problems connected with the ‘apparatus’ employed in grammaticalization theory. She argued that grammaticalization processes may be better understood if viewed in terms of analogical processes, i.e., as part of our general cognitive capacities, which are primarily connected with our iconic and indexical thinking both preceding and underlying symbolic thinking. Situating his research in Japan Sign Language (JSL) within a broadly defined cognitive linguistic framework, William Herlofsky (Nagoya Gakuin) suggested that the structure of some linguistic expressions, in particular the shapes and movements of certain iconic signs in sign languages, may mirror their related cognitive structures and therefore effectively indicate how language phenomena are related to brain functions. That structural iconicity should function as a parameter of syntactic innovation was argued by Carmen Terzan Kopecky, who attempted an interlingual perspective. The day closed with further contributions in literary iconicity. Jac Conradie (Johannesburg) discussed iconic features in Adriaen Coenen’s sixteenth-century description of marine creatures, in which signs were projected on these creatures so as to highlight divinely wrought mysteries from the sea. Hans Ester (Nijmegen) spoke on “Iconicity as the key to the poetry by Nelly Sachs” and pointed out iconic aspects of the formal elements in her poems and letters as balancing between silence and meaninglessness. Inspired by Paul Klee’s concept of drawing as “taking the line for a walk,” Heilna du Plooy explored poems by the Afrikaans poet T.T. Cloete, which seem to imitate a line drawing of an object, and discussed whether these poems are poetic contour drawings or contoured poems.

On the third and last morning, the third keynote speaker, Jacobus Naudé (U. of the Free State, Bloemfontein), addressed the issue of iconicity and developments in translation studies by tracing their trajectory from a multidisciplinary undertaking in the 1970s and 1980s to the new intra- and intersystemic discipline that it has become in the new century. Arguing that linguistic iconicity may both be coincidental and motivational, the paper by Ludovic de Cuypere and Klaas Willems (Ghent) proposed a linguistic theory which takes both the role of iconicity and the fundamentally conventional nature of language into account, suggesting E. Coseriu’s distinction between idiomatic and expressive knowledge as an alternative approach. Etienne Terblanche’s (North-West University, Potchefstroom) contribution on the iconic features of naming in E.E. Cummings’ poetry, which discussed the size-sound symbolism in Cummings’ i-O poems brought the conference to an end.