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Volume Twelve: Issue One

Fall 2011

ARTICLES
Toward a Phonetic Representation of Hand Configuration: The Fingers
Robert E. Johnson and Scott K. Liddell

Abstract

Features and Natural Classes in ASL Handshapes
Cecily Whitworth

Abstract

Numeral Variation in New Zealand Sign Language
David McKee, Rachel McKee, and George Major

Abstract

How Teacher Mediation during Video Viewing Facilitates Literacy Behaviors
Debbie B. Golos and Anne M. Moses

Abstract

Computer-Assisted Learning in British Sign Language
Maria Mertzani

Abstract

BOOK REVIEW
Hand Talk: Sign Language among American Indian Nations, by Jeffrey E. Davis
David Armstrong
ABSTRACTS
Toward a Phonetic Representation of Hand Configuration: The Fingers

In this article we describe a componential, articulatory approach to the phonetic description of the configuration of the four fingers. Abandoning the traditional holistic, perceptual approach, we propose a system of notational devices and distinctive features for the description of the four fingers proper (index, middle, ring, and pinky). Specifically, we suggest that the configuration of the fingers is best understood as a componential combination of the positions of each of the three joints of each finger.

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Features and Natural Classes in ASL Handshapes

This article argues for the necessity of phonetic analysis in signed language linguistics and presents a case study of one analytical system being used in a preliminary attempt to identify natural classes and investigate variation in ASL handshapes.

Robbin Battison (1978) first described what is now a widely accepted list of basic handshapes, including those involved in the ASL signs for the letters A, B, C, S, and O and the numbers 1 and 5. These handshapes are said to be theoretically similar to the more common (and thus more basic) phonemes of spoken languages, and an equally wide cross-linguistic distribution is expected. However, without a subhandshape level of description and analysis, precise differences and similarities among and between handshapes are impossible to examine. Robert E. Johnson and Scott K. Liddell (forthcoming) provide a componential, feature-based transcription system in which groups of symbols describe phonetic elements of the handshape (such as finger selection and joint flexion/extension), allowing the identification of natural classes and potential phonemes.

This study compares standard adult forms of signs with the forms produced by a two-year-old child and focuses on the phonetic features of hand configuration. Child-production errors have been noted to often involve the substitution of less marked hand configurations for more highly marked ones (see Siedlecki and Bonvillian 1993; Takkinen 2003); I suggest that the specific handshapes involved in the substitutions may be motivated by features shared between the target and the produced forms and that this phenomenon is apparent only with a phonetic feature-level (as opposed to the more usual phonemic category-level) transcription of the data.

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Numeral Variation in New Zealand Sign Language

Lexical variation abounds in New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) and is commonly associated with the introduction of the Australasian Signed English lexicon into Deaf education in 1979, before NZSL was acknowledged as a language. Evidence from dictionaries of NZSL collated between 1986 and 1997 reveal many coexisting variants for the numbers from one to twenty in NZSL. This article reports on an empirical investigation of how the use of variants for numerals is associated with social factors of age, region, and gender. Results confirm that age group is the strongest factor in variation and that region also plays a role. The analysis of illustrative cases of number variation reveals sociolinguistic processes of social differentiation and changing lexical usage in the NZSL community. Findings provide comparative data on aspects of number variation reported in the closely related British Sign Language.

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How Teacher Mediation during Video Viewing Facilitates Literacy Behaviors

There is increasing support for using media products as early intervention tools for deaf children. Because deaf children are visual learners, products such as interactive DVDs and videos can be an effective supplement in the teaching of ASL and literacy skills to deaf children. While adult mediation during literacy activities has been shown to have a positive impact on deaf children’s early literacy skills, little is known about the effects of adult mediation of preschool deaf children’s interactions with educational media. The current study investigated whether preschool teachers (n = 3) fostered deaf children’s (n = 9) engagement during their repeated viewing of a literacy-focused educational video (in ASL). Descriptive statistics and t-tests were conducted to examine teachers’ and students’ literacy-related engagement behaviors during each day of viewing. In addition, students’ behaviors in the current study were compared to those of students in a previous study to determine whether children’s literacy-related behaviors differed according to the presence or absence of teacher mediation during video viewing. Results indicate that while children’s engagement behaviors increased without adult mediation, viewings with teacher mediation elicited even greater literacy engagement behaviors. These findings support the use of research-based educational media in ASL that provide strong literacy and language exposure for young deaf children.

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Computer-Assisted Learning in British Sign Language

The fact that language teaching can be operationalized through computer-assisted language learning (CALL) has directed researchers’ attention to the learning task, which, in this case, is considered to be the unit that demands analysis of the communicative processes in which the learner is involved while working with CALL. Research focuses on understanding the cognitive and social processes that CALL tasks create, such as the input they provide to learners, the interactions they offer, and the opportunities they provide to learners to produce the language. This study investigated the use of CALL, specifically SignLab, in the teaching and learning of British Sign Language (BSL). The primary research objective was to identify how students and teaching assistants used the hardware and software in order to learn and teach BSL, as well as their attitudes toward this technology. Data were collected by means of a questionnaire and interviews with students and teaching assistants with regard to their perceptions of BSL learning and teaching. Classroom observations were also conducted to investigate the actual teaching and learning activity occurring in the SignLab classroom.

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