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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Primary Movement in Sign Languages
A Study of Six Languages

Donna Jo Napoli, Mark
Mai, and Nicholas Gaw

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From Choice

This cross-linguistic study of sign language phonetics examines prosody in sign language expression. The authors, all linguists, studied the movement parameter across six different sign languages of six different Deaf communities: American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), Italian Sign Language (LIS), French Sign Language (LSF), Australian Sign Language (Auslan), and Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL). The authors compared four older sign languages (BSL, LIS, LSF, and Auslan) with the new sign language, NSL. Utilizing innovative research tools from mathematics and statistics, they were able to explore historical changes in established and new sign languages. The authors found that BSL and LSF shared similar features of the movement parameter. Auslan, LIS, and ASL had contrasting features to BSL and LSF. The data support a dissemination hypothesis. The authors claim that “sign languages that are direct descendants of a mother sign language and that have remained in the geographic home of the mother language (origin-bound languages) are different from sign languages that have evolved in a different geographic home from that of the mother language and are in contact with the indigenous sign languages of the new home (disaspora languages).” Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.

Donna Jo Napoli is Professor of Linguistics, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA.

Mark Mai, a student at the Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, received his BA in linguistics at Swarthmore College.

Nicholas Gaw, a political professional in Washington, DC, received his BA in history and linguistics at Swarthmore College.

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ISBN 978-1-56368-491-3, 6 x 9 casebound, 222 pages, tables, figures, photographs

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ISBN 978-1-56368-492-0

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