Casey Thornton, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Linguistics, will defend her dissertation on “The status of palm orientation in the phonological representation of American Sign Language” on Thursday, March 23, at 2 p.m. in Living and Learning Residence Hall 6 (LLRH6) Room 101. The first forty minutes of the dissertation defense are open to the Gallaudet community.
Ms. Thornton’s dissertation examines the status of palm orientation in the phonological representation of signed languages through three unique but related studies using the Prosodic Model of sign language phonology as its theoretical foundation. The first study looks at how palm orientation behaves in natural signing, the second takes a psycholinguistic approach examining how native signers compensate when target joints responsible for orientation are restricted, and the third aims to determine if native signers are able to correctly identify signs modified to block orientation change. Results from the three combined studies indicated that, in line with the Prosodic Model, there are two types of palm orientation to be represented and how they function within signed languages are uniquely specified. This work contributes to the ever-growing sign linguistics field bridging the gaps between theoretical models and linguistic experimentation.
The members of Ms. Thornton’s dissertation committee are Dr. Gaurav Mathur, chair of the dissertation committee, Department of Linguistics; Dr. Deborah Chen Pichler, Department of Linguistics; Dr. Julie Hochgesang, Department of Linguistics; Dr. Daniel Koo, Department of Psychology; and Dr. Diane Brentari, Department of Linguistics, University of Chicago.
Ms. Thornton joined the Gallaudet University community in 2010, when she entered the masters program in linguistics. After earning completing her M.A. degree in 2012, she entered the doctoral program in linguistics. During her graduate studies, Casey has done extensive research on universal phonotactic constraints in signed languages and has taken a keen interest in bridging gaps between theoretical models of phonology and linguistic experimentation. She also worked as an adjunct professor at Gallaudet University and as a graduate assistant in the Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimagine (BL2). In 2015, Casey returned to her hometown and has been teaching at California State University, Northridge as an adjunct professor in Deaf Studies.