Amelia Becker will be this semester’s first Brown Bag presenter. She will be talking with us about about some important conceptual issues raised at the intersection of phonetics, phonology, and cognition in signed languages (see abstract below).
topic: Sign Language Phonetic Annotation as a Tool in Cognitive Linguistics
presenter: Amelia Becker
when: Monday, February 23rd, 12 to 1 pm
where: SLCC 3rd floor open area in linguistics department
SIGN LANGUAGE PHONETIC ANNOTATION AS A TOOL IN COGNITIVE LINGUISTICS
This paper seeks to determine ways in which Sign Language Phonetic Annotation (SLPA; Johnson & Liddell, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c) is an appropriate tool for Cognitive linguistics. I posit a theory of Cognitive phonetics and phonology based upon Langacker’s (2008) Content Requirement and drawing from Bybee’s (2003) and Armstrong, Stokoe, and Wilcox’s (1995) insights. I then evaluate SLPA against this rough framework, firstly concluding that the phonological level of Johnson and Liddell’s (2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c) suggestions are in opposition to such a theory due to their assumptions of underlying and surface forms which follow a Generative model of rule-governed operations. Next, however, I examine the phonetic level of analysis offered by SLPA (which is, in fact, the bulk of the focus of the articles proposing it) and demonstrate that a phonetic description of signed languages is indeed useful. Whereas previous suggestions for signed language phonology, such as Brentari’s (1998) Prosodic Model, have provided phonological but not phonetic analysis, SLPA serves as a tool for a phonetic representation of the configuration of signs, and Johnson and Liddell (2010) convincingly demonstrate the inadequacy of purely “emic” models for describing differences both between distinct signs and between the same sign’s form in different phonological contexts. Some have argued (Armstrong et al., 1995; Stokoe, 2001) that, in contrast to spoken language phonetics and phonology, an articulatory and sequential representation of signs is unnecessary due to differences in visual and auditory perception. To support Johnson and Liddell’s (2010) argument for phonetic description, then, I demonstrate how SLPA can reveal articulatory differences between a sign’s form in American Sign Language and its apparently borrowed form in Haitian Sign Language, differences which are indeed perceivable by native and fluent signers, thus necessitating the employment of phonetic detail in the description of perceptual phenomena, regardless of the predictability of certain features.
I then examine SLPA in light of Armstrong et al.’s (1995) proposal to view all language production – whether signed or spoken – as gesture. Brentari (1998) suggests “that the closer our analyses are to the phonetics, the more apparent the differences are between sign language and spoken language, and that the closer our analyses are to grammatical function, the more apparent the similarities become” (p. 3). I propose, however, that SLPA’s focus upon the muscular activities employed for signed language production provides a model for examining linguistic form in a way that can also inform spoken language linguistics: as physical activity commanded by the brain. Focusing on the brain’s trifold task of housing the language network and both commanding and perceiving language production regardless of modality makes room for precisely the unified view of all language production as gesture for which Armstrong et al. (1995) call.