What You See Is What you Feel:Sign Language Phonology in a ProTactile World

The research of this project documents and analyzes, for the first time, a large, socially organized and politically engaged network of DeafBlind language-users communicating via "protactile" American Sign Language (PT-ASL). The investigators are analyzing the differences in phonological representation in the productions across PT DeafBlind signers, non-PT DeafBlind signers and non-PT Deaf signers, in order to distinguish PT-ASL from on-the-fly compensation for sensory loss (i.e., being deaf-blind). Phonological distinctions are being modified from a largely visual to a more proprioceptive modality; therefore the emergence and development of PT-ASL offers a unique opportunity to understand how human language can be adapted to radically different conditions of transmission and interaction. Supported by NSF grant to Terra Edwards & Diane Brentari (Co-PIs) BCS-1651100.


Sign Language Typology

Data collected on descriptions of motion and location events in 10 sign languages from 3 sign language families were investigated in order to investigate the grammatical similarities and differences among these systems in sign languages and their relation to similar systems in spoken languages. Currently we are interested in taking this work further in order to determine typological differences among sign languages. Supported in part by NSF BCS 1227908





Language Emergence


In this work the diachronic and evolutionary processes of a phonological system are compared with those processes that occur during the acquisition of such a system.

Comparative analyses of descriptions of motion and location events in three populations are being conducted: (1) native signers of Italian Sign Language and American Sign Language, both adults and children; (2) individuals who are isolated from language learning and who invent their own communicative gesture system (homesigners), both adults and children, and (3) hearing people as they gesture, both adults and children. Supported in part by NSF BCS 1205198



Gestural behaviors of the body and hands are used for prosodic purposes in both signed and spoken languages. In conducting this research we ask: Are there universal properties of gestural prosody used by both signed and spoken languages?; How are gestures used differently in the prosodic structure of spoken vs. signed languages?; What types of “language contact” phenomena in signed and spoken language communities of a single country can be found in gestural prosody? This work, as it pertains to the prosody of fingerspelling in ASL is supported by NSF IIS-1409886.