1/27/2012 Brown bag lunch presentation: Jordan Fenlon

What: 1st brown bag lunch presentation of the year
Who: Jordan Fenlon
When: Friday January 27th at noon
Where: SLCC 3233 (our open area)
Topic: Lexical frequency in signed languages: a cross-linguistic perspective

Abstract: Although an understanding of lexical frequency is important in a variety of subdisciplines within linguistics, only three studies on lexical frequency in sign languages have been conducted to date: a small-scale study on American Sign Language (ASL) based on 4111 sign tokens from commercially available videotapes of ASL (Morford & MacFarlane, 2003), a much larger study on New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) based on 100,000 sign tokens taken from the Wellington Corpus of New Zealand Sign Language (McKee & Kennedy, 2006), and a study on Australian Sign Language (Auslan) based on 63,436 sign tokens from the Auslan Archive (Johnston, 2011). In this presentation, we report on a study of lexical frequency in British Sign Language (BSL), based on 25,000 sign tokens from the conversation data within the BSL Corpus (Schembri et al. 2011). Preliminary results based on 12,438 signs indicate that 60% (n=7335) of the data consists of signs from the core (or ‘frozen’) lexicon i.e. those signs which are highly conventionalized in form and meaning across contexts (Johnston & Schembri, 1999). The next two largest categories are pointing signs (23%, n=2863) and non-lexicalized productions (i.e., gestures and sequences of enactment or constructed action) (9%, n=1169). Preliminary comparisons with the ASL and Auslan data reveal some interesting similarities and differences. For example, the frequency of pointing signs is much higher in the BSL conversational data when compared to ASL and Auslan (13.8% and 12.3% respectively). This is consistent with Morford & MacFarlane (2003) for ASL and Johnston (2011) for Auslan who found that the frequency of pointing signs increased in casual signing contexts when compared to more formal contexts (i.e. interviews). In this presentation, we explore reasons that may account for the differences in frequency between the studies mentioned here and between frequency studies in signed and spoken languages. Such comparisons both within and across language modalities are crucial for better understanding of language processing, acquisition, variation and change and also for theory building.

Johnston, T. (2011). Lexical frequency in signed languages. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 1-31.

Johnston, T., & Schembri, A. (1999). On defining lexeme in a signed language. Sign Language and Linguistics, 2(2), 115-185.

McKee, D., & Kennedy, G. (2006). The distribution of signs in New Zealand Sign Language. Sign Language Studies, 6(4), 373-390.

Morford, J., & MacFarlane, J. (2003). Frequency characteristics of American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies, 3(2), 213-225.

Schembri, A., Fenlon, J., Rentelis, R. & Cormier, K. (2011). British Sign Language Corpus Project: A corpus of digital video data of British Sign Language 2008-2010 (First Edition). London: University College London. (http://www.bslcorpusproject.org).

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