Mixed signals: Combining affective and linguistic functions of eyebrows in sign language of The Netherlands (Master's thesis)

De Vos, C. (2006). Mixed signals: Combining affective and linguistic functions of eyebrows in sign language of The Netherlands (Master's thesis). Nijmegen: Department of Linguistics, Radboud University.
Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT) is a visual-gestural language in which linguistic information is conveyed through manual as well as non-manual channels; not only the hands, but also body position, head position and facial expression are important for the language structure. Facial expressions serve grammatical functions in the marking of topics, yes/no questions, and wh-questions (Coerts, 1992). Furthermore, facial expression is used nonlinguistically in the expression of affect (Ekman, 1979). Consequently, at the phonetic level obligatory marking of grammar using facial expression may conflict with the expression of affect. In this study, I investigated the interplay of linguistic and affective functions of brow movements in NGT. Three hypotheses were tested in this thesis. The first is that the affective markers of eyebrows would dominate over the linguistic markers. The second hypothesis predicts that the grammatical markers dominate over the affective brow movements. A third possibility is that a Phonetic Sum would occur in which both functions are combined simultaneously. I elicited sentences combining grammatical and affective functions of eyebrows using a randomised design. Five sentence types were included: declarative sentences, topic sentences, yes-no questions, wh-questions with the wh-sign sentence-final and wh-questions with the wh-sign sentence-initial. These sentences were combined with neutral, surprised, angry, and distressed affect. The brow movements were analysed using the Facial Action Coding System (Ekman, Friesen, & Hager, 2002a). In these sentences, the eyebrows serve a linguistic function, an affective function, or both. One of the possibilities in the latter cases was that a Phonetic Sum would occur that combines both functions simultaneously. Surprisingly, it was found that a Phonetic Sum occurs in which the phonetic weight of Action Unit 4 appears to play an important role. The results show that affect displays may alter question signals in NGT.
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