John Samson

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

J. Albert Bickford


In this thesis, I show that universally, there is a strong tendency for signs located on the body to have an iconic or non-arbitrary motivation, especially in their original form. I analyze sign language dictionaries from four unrelated sign languages and establish an iconic or non-arbitrary link between the form of the signs and their meaning, and classify those links according to 8 categories of body location iconicity and 3 categories of non-arbitrariness. The strength of this tendency depends on the percentage of signs that are shown to have an iconic or non-arbitrary link. For the data analyzed here this percentage is between 92.0-98.1%. In addition to this I provide helpful principles for analyzing the iconicity and etymology of signs; I provide a framework for analyzing iconicity and make a new distinction between it and a type of non-arbitrariness which I am calling “form to form resemblance.”