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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Signed Languages: Discoveries from International Research

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Part 2, on morphology and syntax, includes papers that cover manually produced nouns and verbs as well as the morphological status of nonhanded signs. Bergman and Wallin discuss the morphological relationship of noun classifiers to nouns in Swedish Sign Language, specifically, in narrative discourse. Dively challenges the notion that nonhanded signs such as affirmative headnods and negative headshakes are bound morphemes in ASL. She analyzes the form, meaning, and function of eight nonhanded ASL signs. Finally, Meir focuses on Israeli Sign Language in her study of spatial and agreement verbs. She proposes a specific lexical decomposition analysis that seems to predict verb classification in Israeli Sign Language and, potentially, in other signed languages.

In the section on psycholinguistics (part 3), Wilson and Emmorey counter their own earlier claims regarding the role of abstract properties of language in the structure of working memory. In this chapter based on their new data, they propose that the modality of a language does affect the structure and functioning of working memory and, hence, carries implications regarding cognition.

Language acquisition is the focus of part 4. Regarding second language acquisition, Mirus, Rathmann, and Meier find that hearing adults who are learning ASL as a second language struggle with proximalization and distalization of sign movement. This finding has both pedagogical and interactive implications. For example, hearing signers’ sign movement impediments might cause native ASL users to perceive them as aggressive.

While Mirus, Rathmann, and Meier focus on phonological features in second language acquisition, Vercaingne-Ménard, Godard, and Labelle address first language acquisition and the acquisition of narrative discourse in deaf children who use Quebec Sign Language (LSQ). They study the development of story grammar in two deaf children of hearing parents. Their findings show that, during a two-year period (between the ages of 4 and 6 for each child), the children are able to close a two-year gap in narrative grammar.

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