New Research Rethinks the Design of Letters

For centuries, scholars believed that there was no inherent visual correlation between certain signifiers (letters and words) and the signified (what they conveyed). For example, this belief—helmed by Swiss linguist and philosopher Ferdinand de Saussure—suggests that there is no reason why the word tree corresponds to an actual tree, because there’s nothing particularly tree-like about the word tree. New research, however, is making scholars believe this long-held opinion could be false. The Color Game—an app developed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History to study the evolution of language—features a number of symbols that players use to communicate with one another. The 4,000+ participants, spanning over 70 languages and 100 countries, were able to develop shared understanding as some symbols adopted meaning. A language began to form. Now, researchers are rethinking the design behind letters, believing that iconicity, the idea that words and letters relate to what they refer to, might be possible. Learn more about it at Vice.

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