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To determine whether similar language was used by ASL and English subjects, we examined the use of motion verbs and spatial terms. Although ASL signers tended to rely on classifier constructions and the topographic use of signing space in their environment descriptions, signers did produce some lexical spatial terms. We compare the use of these terms with their English counterparts.

Taylor and Tversky found that English route descriptions contained significantly more "active" verbs (primarily motion verbs) and more terms that related a landmark to the viewer (e.g. left, right); whereas, English survey descriptions contained more "stative" verbs (i.e., existential verbs) and more relational terms that related a landmark to the environment (e.g., North, South). Since stative verbs such as the copula (forms of to be) or verbs like stand or lie are rarely (if ever) used to express locative relations in ASL, we did not attempt to count these verb forms in ASL.

Motion verbs

ASL expresses motion with both classifier predicates and lexical verbs such as DRIVE, PASS, or WALK. We counted the occurrence of these verb types for each ASL description. Following the English pattern, ASL route descriptions contained significantly more motion verbs then survey descriptions (t(30) = 4.4, p < .01). The mean number of motion verbs for each discourse category are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Mean number of ASL motion verbs and relational terms per discourse type

Route (N=10)Mixed (N=8) Survey(N = 22)
Motion verbs 9.1 (8.0)a 3.8 (2.8)1.5 (1.2)**
LEFT-RIGHT signs 3.7 (4.2)1.3 (1.6)0.14 (0.35)**
N,S,E,W signs 1.2 (2.1)0.75 (1.4) 1.0 (1.8)

a) Standard deviations are given in parentheses.

**Significant difference between Route and Survey descriptions (p < .01).

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