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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