Linguistics Department Dissertation Defense – Jeff Palmer “ASL Word Order Development in Bimodal Bilingual Children” 11/19/15 at 1 pm @LLRH6, room 101

Jeff Palmer’s Dissertation Defense will be Thursday November 19, 2015 at 1pm in the Living and Learning Residence Hall (LLRH6), Room 101. Everyone is invited to attend the public presentation which will be the first 30-40 minutes. Here is a summary of his dissertation:

ASL Word Order Development in Bimodal Bilingual Children: Early syntax of hearing and cochlear-implanted deaf children from deaf signing families
This study examines the word orders produced by heritage learners of American Sign Language (ASL) from video-recorded naturalistic sessions. These bimodal bilingual children are born to deaf signing parents but have auditory access to English. Commonly, these children are only exposed to ASL in the home and the dominant language, English, both in school and in the community. This dissertation tracks the production of canonical (SV and VO) and non-canonical (VS and OV) word orders of the subjects from ages 1;8 to 3;6 and compares them to deaf children (without cochlear implants) from deaf signing families. Word order development is assessed by a first-repeated use measure of acquisition, examining the amount of each of the four word order types produced, as well as the proportion of canonical and non-canonical word orders produced by session over time. Results reveal that the bimodal bilingual children develop canonical word order similarly to the deaf comparison group at 23 months. This suggests that the bimodal bilinguals set their spec-head and head-complement parameters very early. When combining both the ASL-only and code-blended utterances the overall amount of canonical word orders produced by the bimodal bilingual children is not significantly different. However, the children diverge from the deaf controls in terms of their overall use and acquisition of non-canonical word orders. A mixed effects two-way linear regression confirms an interaction between hearing status and non-canonical word order production. The deaf children produce significantly more OV utterances (β = -6.81; s.e. = 1.35; t = 5.03) and VS utterances (β = 5.32; s.e. = 1.35; t = 3.93) than the bimodal bilinguals. For OV word order all the bimodal bilinguals (n = 4) did not reach first-repeated use criterion by 42 months. For VS word order, the hearing bimodal bilinguals (n = 2) reached criterion more than one year after the deaf children while the cochlear-implanted deaf children (n = 2) never reached criterion. This suggests that the bimodal bilinguals are still acquiring the ASL morphological features associated with non-canonical word orders. The results of this dissertation offer some of the first quantitative evidence to support the notion that bimodal bilinguals are heritage learners of ASL by specifically identifying which areas of their grammars diverge from deaf controls. These findings support previous research that argues heritage learners have difficultly with morphology leading to word order issues. Importantly, these bimodal bilinguals were conservative in their use of non-canonical word order and had very few word order errors. This distinguishes them from reports about late-exposed deaf signers who have a much higher word order error rate and further supports their heritage status as heritage learners’ acquisition path often diverges from monolingual comparisons.

The department congratulates Jeff for making it this far in his dissertation studies.

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Linguistics Department Dissertation Defense – Christina Healy “Construing Affective Events in ASL” 11/11/15 at 12 pm @SLCC open area

We are delighted to announce that Christina Healy’s Dissertation Defense will be Wednesday November 11, 2015 at 12pm in the Linguistics Department Open Area (SLCC 3233). Everyone is invited to attend the public presentation which will be the first 30 – 40 minutes. Here is a summary of her dissertation:

Construing Affective Events in American Sign Language – Ms. Christina Healy

This study examined ASL constructions that denote affective events: those in which someone has an emotional response to a stimulus (e.g., in English, “The bear fascinated the girl”). Previous studies on this topic have focused predominately on spoken languages, and with Generative Linguistic analyses have centered on discussions of psychological verbs (“psych” predicates). In contrast, this dissertation used a Cognitive Linguistic approach for analysis and included both psych predicate constructions, as well as those which denote affective events through depiction, namely constructed action and constructed dialogue. A deeper understanding of ASL affective constructions can contribute to formal linguistic study, and findings may be applied in language curriculum development, interpreter training, and mental health counseling.

The department congratulates Christina for making it this far in her dissertation studies.

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Brown Bag – showing of “Ishaare” by Annelies Kusters 10/28 and 11/4, 12-1 @SLCC Open Space, Ling Dept

Please join us in the open space of the department the next two Wednesdays, 10/28 and 11/4 at noon for a special Brown Bag film event. We will be showing a recently released film titled “Ishaare,” directed by Anthropologist Annelies Kusters, and produced by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. The film is based on ethnographic research conducted by Annelies Kusters and Sujit Sahasrabudhe about language and gesture in Mumbai, India, and the ways in which local gestural repertoires are taken up and elaborated upon by Deaf, DeafBlind, and hearing people, as they circumvent language barriers, and differences in sensory access. We will be showing the film in a two-part series. The first half will be shown next Wednesday, 10/28, and the following Wednesday, we will be showing the second half. Dr. Kusters has also agreed to videorecord a short message about how this film speaks specifically to the concerns of sociolinguistics and sign language linguistics. The film will be followed by discussion. See below for synopsis.

The Director’s Synopsis

“Ishaare” has a double meaning: it means “gestures” in Hindi and Marathi, but it also means “signs”, as such indicating that there cannot be made a strict distinction between them. However, whilst there seems to be overlap between gestures and sign language, they differ too, as the protagonists of the movie show and tell us. The film “Ishaare” documents how six deaf signers communicate with familiar and unfamiliar hearing shopkeepers, street vendors, customers, waiters, ticket conductors and fellow travellers in Mumbai. Reena and Pradip, who is deaf blind, go grocery shopping along local streets, in markets and in shops. Sujit, our guide throughout the movie, communicates in public transport. Mahesh is a retail businessman who sells stocks of pens to stationery shops. Komal runs an accessory shop with her husband Sanjay, where most customers are schoolgirls. Durga is the manager of a branch of Café Coffee Day, an upmarket coffee chain. When enquiring, selling, bargaining and chitchatting, these deaf and hearing people use gestures and signs, and they also lipread, mouth, read and write in different spoken languages. In the film, they share how they experience these ways of communication.


In case you can’t join us, see the video here  The film lasts 80 minutes. (you can switch on or switch off HD)

The “making of”, which lasts 20 minutes:

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New article by faculty Terra Edwards “Bridging the gap between DeafBlind minds…” in Frontiers of Psychology

“Bridging the gap between DeafBlind minds: interactional and social foundations of intention attribution in the Seattle DeafBlind community” 

In this article, Edwards shows how the pro-tactile movement is triggering a grammatical divergence between Tactile American Sign Language (TASL) and Visual American Sign Language (VASL). In particular, it focuses on how recent changes in social and interactional structure have given rise to a contrast between demonstratives and locatives, two types of pointing signs in TASL. While TASL and VASL are diverging, these changes make it easier for DeafBlind people to converge on objects of reference, without relying on sighted people to mediate.

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CANCELED Brown Bag by Adam Stone “Perception of Sonority in Sign Language” 9/30, 12-1 @SLCC Open Space, Ling Dept

Please join us for our next Brown Bag on Wednesday, 9/30 in the open space of the department from 12:0012:50. I look forward to seeing you all there! – Terra

Perception of Sonority in Sign Language

Adam Stone

Focusing specifically on sign language, we explore the perception of “sonority,” which refers to salient changes in amplitude. Hearing adults and infants alike universally prefer well-formed speech syllables based on sonority constraints, even in unknown or artificial languages. Sonority also exists in visual languages, providing an opportunity to explore whether sonority-based linguistic preferences extends across modalities or is dependent on language experience. We tested visual perception of sonority in signing and nonsigning adults using a preference task where subjects indicated which fingerspelling variant they favored, and found that adults’ perception of visual sonority is dependent on language experience. Next, we explore developmental changes in the perception of sonority by recording looking times in sign-naïve infants using the same stimuli. Their peception of sonority decreased within age, suggesting that sensitivity to sonority is present early in life and is shaped by language exposure during development.

The results support the hypothesis that perception of sonority is present by 4-6 months in sign-naïve infants and therefore, possibly innate. Infants are initially sensitive to both visual and aural sonority, while experience modulates this sensitivity to within one’s native language modality. Thus, sonority might be important in language acquisition by orienting infants’ attention to human language input, from which they may extract phonetic-syllabic units from the linguistic stream and begin computing systematic statistical patterns en route to learning language.
This is an ongoing project with collaborators Dr. Rain Bosworth (University of California, San Diego) and Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto (Gallaudet Univeristy, Stone’s Primary Advisor).
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DASL is fifty years old!

This figure shows how the ASL sign for A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles, known as DASL in the field, was written by William Stokoe, Dorothy Casterline and Carl Croneberg in 1965. This dictionary is now fifty years old. This book was ground-breaking in that it described signs using formational elements (handshape, location and movement) thus demonstrating the transformational idea that signs were made up of discrete parts just like words were made up of discrete sounds. DASL has had a profound impact on signed language research.

One example of this impact is Stokoe Notation, which is described in DASL. Stokoe Notation is how someone can represent signs on paper. A short guide to this is available here. While Stokoe Notation has well-known problems as a representational device (e.g., Hochgesang 2015 ), it is the first of its kind and served as inspiration for other representational systems (e.g., HamNoSys, SLPA, etc).

To celebrate DASL’s 50th year, we will be occasionally posting notations of ASL signs on our department’s Twitter account.

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Signed languages are not codes – see letter to editor of Washington Post by professor emeritus Ceil Lucas

Nyle DiMarco, a Deaf native user of ASL and popular contestant on America’s Next Top Model, has been making waves in the media lately. One such example is the August 7th article by Yanan Wang, “His modeling photos got him noticed, but didn’t show one thing: He’s deaf” which shared DiMarco’s observations that the Deaf community is a linguistic minority but inaccurately described signed languages as codes.

Ceil Lucas, Professor Emeritus of the Linguistics Department at Gallaudet University, wrote a letter to the editor.

Sign language is not a code; it is a natural language like spoken languages, with all of the characteristics of natural languages. And in this case, we’re talking about American Sign Language (ASL), independent in structure from spoken languages and also distinct from the tens of other sign languages used in deaf communities on the planet, such as British Sign Language (BSL), Auslan ( Australian Sign Language ) and Italian Sign Language (LIS), to name but a few.

Nyle DiMarco, the subject of the article, is a native user of ASL, as are many children around the world, both hearing and deaf, born to deaf parents and into signing families. If ASL and other sign languages are “codes,” then all spoken languages are also “codes,” which is clearly not the case.

We in sign language studies are passionate about this issue because of all of the time and effort we have expended in demonstrating that sign languages are “real” languages and not, in fact, codes of some kind.

The letter can be found here along with Keith Cagle’s letter objecting to the pejorative use of “deaf”. Cagle is an associate professor for Gallaudet University Department of Interpretation.

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