Storytelling

Chapter One continued...
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Do users of American Sign Language (ASL) describe environments using these same discourse styles? If so, do they make the same perspective choices that English speakers do? It is possible that language modality may influence perspective choice, given the different affordances of vision vs. audition. Unlike spoken languages, ASL uses physical space itself to describe spatial relations. That is, locations within signing space can function topographically to represent locations within a real or imagined world. What are the consequences of this system for perspective choice? Does the nature of signing space change, depending on perspective choice? We investigate these questions by studying how ASL signers describe different types of environments.

To investigate the determinants of perspective choice for English speakers, Taylor and Tversky (1996) gave subjects maps of either a large scale environment (a town) or a small scale environment (a convention center) and asked them to memorize the maps (see Figure 1), and then write a description of the environment so that someone reading the description could find all of the landmarks. Taylor and Tversky found that English speakers more often adopted a survey perspective when describing the town, and a route perspective when describing the convention center. The following are excerpts from written English descriptions (Taylor & Tversky (1996: 379):

Survey (town): North of town are the White Mtns. and east of town is the White River, which flows south from the White Mtns. The main road by town runs in the east-west directions and crosses the White River. . .

Route (convention center): You enter from the southeast corner of the building. As you come in, turn right. To your right will be the "personal computers" room. Continue until you're forced to make a left. The "stereo components" room will be in front of you as you turn left...

Taylor and Tversky proposed that choice of perspective is partially dependent upon the characteristics of the environment, with single paths and size-equivalent landmarks encouraging a route rather than a survey perspective.

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