Gestures in sign languages

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Comparing Action Gestures and Classifier Verbs of Motion: Evidence From Australian Sign Language, Taiwan Sign Language, and Nonsigners’ Gestures Without Speech
Adam Schembri University of Newcastle, Australia Caroline Jones University of New South Wales and MARCS Auditory Laboratories, University of Western Sydney, Australia Denis Burnham MARCS Auditory Laboratories, University of Western Sydney,Australia

Recent research into signed languages indicates that signs may share some properties with gesture, especially in the use of space in classifier constructions. A prediction of this proposal is that there will be similarities in the representation of motion events by sign-naıve gesturers and by ¨ native signers of unrelated signed languages. This prediction is tested for deaf nativesigners of Australian Sign Language (Auslan), deaf signers of Taiwan Sign Language (TSL), and hearing nonsigners using the Verbs of Motion Production task from the Test Battery for American Sign Language (ASL) Morphology and Syntax. Results indicate that differences between the responses of nonsigners, Auslan signers, and TSL signers and the expected ASL responses are greatest with handshape units;movement and location units appear to be very similar. Although not definitive, these data are consistent with the claim that classifier constructions are blends of linguistic and gestural elements.

Recent research indicates that natural signed languages may share some properties with gesture, especially in the meaningful use of space to indicate locative relationships between referents and toindicate participants involved in actions (Casey, 2003a, 2003b; Kendon, 2004; Liddell, 2003a, 2003b). For example, Liddell (2003b) argued that a particular subset of verbs of motion and location in signed languages (widely known as classifier constructions; see Emmorey, 2003) represent blends of gestural elements and sign.
Correspondence should be sent to adam.schembri@bigpond.com.

To the extentthat classifier signs share properties with gesture, there will be measurable similarities between nonsigners’ gestures and signed language and between signing in unrelated signed languages. The aim of this article is to explore the degree of such similarities between hearing nonsigners, deaf signers of Auslan (Australian Sign Language), and deaf signers of the historically unrelated Taiwan SignLanguage (TSL), in the visual-gestural representation of motion events, which typically involves ‘‘classifier verbs.’’ (The analysis of the hand configurations in these constructions as classifiers is problematic [see Schembri, 2003], but we use this widely accepted terminology in this article.) Similarities in the depiction of motion events have previously been reported for adult and child signersof American Sign Language (ASL), a home signer, and hearing nonsigners using gesture without speech (Goldin-Meadow, 2003a, 2003b; Singleton, Goldin-Meadow, & McNeill, 1995; Singleton, Morford, & Goldin-Meadow, 1993; Singleton & Newport, 2004). The present article reports on data from a larger sample of signers and nonsigners than in previous articles and includes data from two unrelated andrelatively understudied signed languages, Auslan and TSL. Details of the verbal systems of these two signed languages have previously been reported for Auslan by Johnston (1989, 1991) and Schembri (2001) and for TSL by Smith (W. H. 1989).

Ó The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oupjournals.orgdoi:10.1093/deafed/eni029 Advance Access publication on April 27, 2005

Classifier Verbs of Motion 273

Definitions of Language and Gesture The present study of the representation of motion events in signed language and gesture was guided by research that views gesture not as an extralinguistic feature of face-to-face communication, but as integral to language itself (Kendon, 2004; McNeill, 1992). Evidence...
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