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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LSA Student Internship Opportunity, Fall 2015

 The LSA is seeking applications for the position of Student Intern at its national office in Washington, DC for the Fall 2015 semester (September – December). This is a great opportunity to learn more about the field of linguistics, the professional needs of LSA members, and the LSA’s broader agenda to advance the scientific study of language. This internship also provides exposure to the workings of a small non-profit organization based in the nation’s capital.
Interns will gain experience with writing, research, database management, social science policy, and a variety of administrative tasks. The position is open to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in programs leading to a degree in linguistics or a related field.
Funding is available to support one part-time position at 18 hours per week, with a $2500 stipend. In order to receive a stipend, applicants must be U.S. citizens or foreign nationals with the appropriate work visa.
Post contributed by doctoral candidate, Carla Morris
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Brown Bag by graduate students on depiction and language fluency in ASL 4/24, 12-1 @SLCC Open Space, Ling Dept

Please join us for our next Brown Bag presentation. Sadi Dudley, Megan Kish, and Derek Vore will be sharing some of their initial findings from the work they have been doing with Dr. Thumann on depiction and language fluency in ASL. The talk will be held in the open area in the linguistics department on April 24th.

topic: Coding Depiction Instances across American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI) Assessment Levels
presenters: Research Assistants of Dr. Thumann: Sadi Dudley, Megan Kish, and Derek Vore
when: Friday, April 24, 12 to 1 pm
where: SLCC 3rd floor open area in linguistics department

The presenters of this Brown Bag session worked as research assistants for a pilot study at Gallaudet University, Examining the Use of Depiction across ASLPI Assessment Levels (M. Thumann). This study sought to analyze depiction usage by signers of varying language fluency in order to identify patterns and differences and provide detailed information about depiction usage. Depiction is a term used “…to describe either (a) any act in which one or a set of concepts are made manifest in the discourse setting, or (b) the product of this act” (Dudis, 2011: 4). Using depiction, signers provide a partial demonstration of the event being described (Liddell, 2003). This study follows Dudis (2007, 2011) where depiction is identified as occurring when signers utilize their articulators, their body, and the signing space around them to represent an entity, event, or abstract concept. Elements of depiction may include the signer’s body, facial expressions, articulators, and the signing space around the signer, and indicators of depiction included changes in head position, facial expression, eye gaze and body position (Thumann 2010).


The research team analyzed language samples from individuals assessed at each level of proficiency on the ASLPI. Using ELAN to compare depiction usage between signers, the research team sought to identify patterns and gain insight into the type and occurrence of depiction usage at various levels of fluency from low proficiency to high proficiency. Using ELAN, a professional transcription tool, the research group analyzed each language sample in order to identify instances of depiction and depiction types, creating time-aligned annotations for each instance (based on Dudis’ Depiction Identification Flowchart version 4.9.2). Coders also noted the indicators of each instance of depiction including changes in facial expression, the direction of eye gaze, the direction of the tilt of the head, and changes in the position of the body (Thumann, 2010).

The aim of this research was to determine how depiction usage compares among signers of different ASLPI levels in order to gain a better understanding of types of depiction evidenced and to identify problem areas related to depiction usage of less skilled signers. This study involved identifying the number of instances of depiction and the number of types of depiction in each sample, a comparison of the number of instances of each type of depiction (within the same proficiency level), and a comparison of the number of instances of each type of depiction (between proficiency levels). This study also involved providing descriptions of differences in types of depiction, evidence of depiction (i.e. differences in the indicators of depiction such as eye gaze, head position, facial expressions, body position), and patterns in the production of depiction by signers of each level of proficiency (i.e. descriptions of variation in handshapes, use of space, etc.). Proficient language users are able to show details and make information visible thereby aiding addressees in constructing conceptualizations for understanding. In this session, the presenters share strategies used in identifying and coding instances of depiction by signers assessed at various proficiency levels on the ASLPI.

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Brown Bag on development of Bimodal Bilingualism (the first 6 years) 4/27, 12-1 @SLCC Open Space, Ling Dept

The semester is winding down. Please take a break from the end of the semester craziness and join us Monday April 27th for a Brown Bag Lecture. Bring your lunch!

topic: Development of Bimodal Bilingualism: The first 6 years
presenters: Dr. Deborah Chen Pichler, Wanette Reynolds, Laura Kozak, and Jeffery Palmer
when: Monday, April 27th, 12 to 1 pm
where: SLCC 3rd floor open area in linguistics department

Come hear about one of our department’s ongoing research programs, the Development of Bimodal Bilingualism, a joint grant project between Gallaudet, the University of Connecticut and the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Brazil. How do children growing up with ASL and English develop linguistically? How does sign+speech bilingualism compare with more typical speech+speech bilingualism? Debbie Chen Pichler, PI of the Gallaudet team, will open the hour with an overview of the project’s main themes from the last 6 years, and also describe the directions in which the lab will be expanding in the future. Our three PhD students in the lab, Viola Kozak, Jeffrey Palmer and Wanette Reynolds, will each speak briefly about our investigations in the development of phonology, syntax and discourse development, respectively, among bimodal bilingual children. We will also touch on the topic of koda signers as heritage users of sign language, displaying many of the trademark characteristics noted for heritage speakers, or bilinguals acquiring a minority, home language in the context of a more dominant majority language.

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Post about TISLR by Doctoral Candidate Carla Morris

The deadline to submit abstracts for posters or presentations for TISLR12 in Melbourne, Australia, is this weekend.

*** Update regarding submission deadline ***

From the SLLS facebook page

Hello everyone,

This is a third and final reminder about the deadline for abstracts for the TISLR 12 conference. It has been slightly revised to March 1, 23:59 Melbourne time (Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time, or AEDT). This is 11 hours ahead of GMT. The cut off for submissions to the EasyChair system has been set to this deadline.

We have extended the deadline slightly to take into account the time differences across the globe which mean that the final hours of February 28 (the previously announced deadline) in some parts of the world may be up to 21 hours (if, for example, you are in Hawaii) behind Melbourne time.

Thank you,
Chair, TISLR 12 Local Organising Committee


Australian Eastern Daylight Time is 16 hours ahead of Eastern Time
For example:
2:39 AM Saturday, Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT) is
10:39 AM Friday, Eastern Time (ET)

Some of you may be asking: What is TISLR???

TISLR stands for Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research. It has become the international conference in our field of sign language linguistics that encompasses all theoretical approaches – The unifying characteristic is our research of sign languages.

Currently, TISLR is held once every 3 years. The first one I attended was in 2010, at Purdue in Indiana.  The most recent (TISLR11) was in London in 2013, where myself and five of our classmates and two of our faculty members presented (!). This next one will be in Melbourne in 2016.

The first TISLR was held in Rochester, NY in 1986.

The second was hosted by our very own department and held here at Gallaudet in 1988. (TISLR2 Proceedings).

TISLR’s governing body is the Sign Language Linguistics Society (SLLS).

At TISLR, not only do sign language researchers from around the world have a chance to network and collaborate (and show off a little), SLLS also holds their General Meeting, wherein the hosting sites of upcoming TISLR’s are voted on – much like the competitive hosting process for the Olympic Games.

Following Melbourne next year, Hamburg is slated to host in 2019. Even if you only have the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it!  It’s an amazing experience.

– Carla Morris

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