Content-biased and coordination-biased selection in the evolution of expressive forms in cross-signing

Byun, K.-S., Roberts, S. G., De Vos, C., Levinson, S. C., & Zeshan, U. (2016). Content-biased and coordination-biased selection in the evolution of expressive forms in cross-signing. Talk presented at the International Society for Gesture Studies. Paris, France. 2016-07-18 - 2016-07-22.
This paper studies communication among deaf sign language users with highly divergent linguistic backgroun
who have no signed or written language in common. It constitutes the earliest, least conventionalised stages of
improvised communication, called ”cross
signing” (Zeshan 2015), as opposed to the semi
contact language International Sign (
e.g. Supalla & Webb 1995). The specific focus here is on the evolution of the
shared repertoire amongst signers over several weeks as they co
construct meaning across linguistic and
cultural boundaries. We look at two possible factors influencing the selec
tion of expressive forms (cf. Tamariz et
al. 2014): content
bias (where the more iconically
motivated, and/or easily
articulated form is selected) and
bias (where participants attempt to match each other’s usag
e). The data set consists of a 320
minute corpus of first encounters between dyads of signers of Nepali Sign Language, Indian Sign Language,
Jordanian Sign Language and Indonesian Sign Language. Recordings took place at the first meeting, after one
week, a
nd after three weeks. The participants vary naturally with regard to their linguistic and international
experience as well as their age of sign language acquisition. In addition to spontaneous conversations, we
collected structured dialogues using a Direct
Matcher task. In this language elicitation game, the Director has
the coloured images and the Matcher has identical but black and white images alongside a set of colour chips
from which they need to select based on the Director’s descriptions. We coded
and examined the various colour
expressions exploited by the participants. The semantic field of colour was chosen for this investigation into the
evolution of shared communication for two reasons: the visual domain of colour retains sufficient levels of
bstraction while affording signers with iconic potential.
Participants initially used a range of strategies, including pointing, articulating signs for common objects with
that colour (e.g. referring to a common iconic sign for ‘tree’ and pointing to the b
ase to mean ‘brown’), and their
own native variants. However, three weeks later these individuals all start using the same forms, e.g. the Indian
signer’s variant for ‘green’ and the Nepali signer’s improvised ‘tree
trunk’ variant for ‘brown’. The iconic
otivation of the latter and the ease of articulation of the former suggest that the content
bias is in play. The
bias also seems influential in the group’s eventual selection of one variant (cf. Tamariz et al. 2014).
We explore these and furth
er factors that may affect the two biases in the selection of forms within our data.
We also consider participants’ meta
linguistic skills (Zeshan 2013) and fluency in multiple sign
languages (Byun
et al. in preparation).
Publication type
Publication date

Share this page