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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Signed Languages: Discoveries from International Research

Valerie Dively, Melanie Metzger,
Sarah Taub, and Anne Marie Baer, Editors

From the Preface

A brisk breeze lifted red, brown, and gold leaves into a swirl that blew across the campus of Gallaudet University on a crisp, clear November weekend in 1998. Inside the Kellogg Conference Center, a flurry of swirling hands raised questions and proposed theories about signed languages from around the globe. The myriad of concurrent sessions held at the sixth annual Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR) conference explored theoretical perspectives ranging from the strictest of formalist to the most corpus-based of functionalist perspectives. Moreover, the conference reflected a trend toward increasing the body of work that represents signed languages never before studied. The task of compiling proceedings that do justice to the largest TISLR conference ever held is daunting. To capture the diverse topics and the international flavor of the conference in a single volume seems nearly impossible. Our solution was to focus on papers that have not been published elsewhere, thereby making them available to interested readers. To capture the theoretical and global diversity of the conference, we raked through a stack of excellent papers; with the assistance of our referees, we have compiled an assortment of topics that include phonology, morphology and syntax, psycholinguistics, applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and poetics.

In the first of two chapters on phonology, Mathur and Rathmann focus on articulatory phonetics. They address the role of joint-based constraints in the articulation of signed language phonology and the implications of these constraints in terms of signed language morphology. The second chapter addresses phonological processes. In her examination of the Sign Language of the Netherlands (SLN), van der Kooij finds that weak drop in SLN, as it is in American Sign Language (ASL), is acceptable for balanced signs in which both hands move symmetrically with respect to each other. However, contrary to prior claims, she finds that weak drop is not blocked on the basis of alternating movement and contralateral articulation (crossing the midsagittal plane). Rather, she finds that semantic, iconic, and possibly even nonmanual aspects play a role in these cases.

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