Storytelling

Chapter One continued...
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To investigate whether ASL signers make similar perspective choices and to study the nature of these spatial descriptions in sign language, we presented ASL signers with the maps used by Taylor and Tversky and asked them to describe the environment shown on the map.

Results and Analysis

We first examine the determinants of perspective choice for ASL signers compared to English speakers. We then compare spatial language in English and ASL, focusing on lexical spatial terms. Finally, we propose that ASL signers utilize one of two different spatial formats, depending on whether a route or a survey perspective is chosen.

Perspective Choice

Each description was judged as adopting either a route perspective, a survey perspective, or a mixed perspective. Two Deaf native signers were asked to decide if the description felt more like a "tour", a bird's eye view description, or a mixture of both. They were also given examples of written English route and survey descriptions from Taylor and Tversky (1996). The ASL coders agreed on 88 percent of judgments; the English coders in the Taylor and Tversky study initially agreed on 83 percent of judgments. When disagreements occurred, the signers discussed the description and came to an agreement. The results are shown in Table 1. The English data are from Taylor and Tversky (1996).

Table 1. Perspective Choice by ASL Signers and English Speakers

Route Mixed Survey
Convention center
English (N=23) 10 10 3
ASL (N=20)3 5 12
Town
English (N=22)2 10 10
ASL (N=20) 7 4 9

The results indicate that the perspectives adopted by ASL signers when describing these environments differed from those of English subjects.* ASL signers were significantly more likely to adopt a survey perspective when describing the convention center, whereas English subjects preferred a route perspective (X2 = 10.72, p < .01). For the town, English and ASL subjects did not differ significantly in perspective choice (both preferring survey perspectives).

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