Article published in:Impersonal human reference in Sign Languages
Edited by Gemma Barberà and Patricia Cabredo Hofherr
[Sign Language & Linguistics 21:2] 2018
► pp. 350–379
Cross-linguistic variation in space-based distance for size depiction in the lexicons of six sign languages
This paper presents a semiotic study of the distribution of a type of size depiction in lexical signs in six sign languages. Recently, a growing number of studies are focusing on the distribution of two representation techniques, i.e. the use of entity handshapes and handling handshapes for the depiction of hand-held tools (e.g. Ortega et al. 2014). Padden et al. (2013) find that there is cross-linguistic variation in the use of this pair of representation techniques. This study looks at variation in a representation technique that has not been systematically studied before, i.e. the delimitation of a stretch of space to depict the size of a referent, or space-based distance for size depiction. It considers the question whether the cross-linguistic variation in the use of this representation technique is governed by language-specific patterning as well (cf. Padden et al. 2013).This study quantifies and compares the occurrence of space-based distance for size depiction in the lexicons of six sign languages, three of Western European origin, and three of West African origin. It finds that sign languages differ significantly from each other in their frequency of use of this depiction type. This result thus corroborates that the selection and distribution of representation techniques does not solely depend on features of the depicted image, but also on language-specific patterning in the distribution of representation techniques, and it adds another dimension of iconic depiction in which sign languages may vary from each other (in addition to the entity/handling handshape distinction). Moreover, the results appear to be areally defined, with the three European languages using this representation technique significantly more often than the three African languages.
Keywords: typology of iconicity, African sign languages, iconic patterning in the lexicon, areal features in sign languages
Published online: 22 March 2019
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