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, 39 (5), 961-987

Referring Strategies in American Sign Language and English (With Co-Speech Gesture): The Role of Modality in Referring to Non-Nameable Objects

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Referring Strategies in American Sign Language and English (With Co-Speech Gesture): The Role of Modality in Referring to Non-Nameable Objects

Zed Sevcikova Sehyr et al. Appl Psycholinguist.

Abstract

American Sign Language (ASL) and English differ in linguistic resources available to express visual-spatial information. In a referential communication task, we examined the effect of language modality on the creation and mutual acceptance of reference to non-nameable figures. In both languages, description times reduced over iterations and references to the figures' geometric properties ("shape-based reference") declined over time in favor of expressions describing the figures' resemblance to nameable objects ("analogy-based reference"). ASL signers maintained a preference for shape-based reference until the final (sixth) round, while English speakers transitioned toward analogy-based reference by Round 3. Analogy-based references were more time efficient (associated with shorter round description times). Round completion times were longer for ASL than for English, possibly due to gaze demands of the task and/or to more shape-based descriptions. Signers' referring expressions remained unaffected by figure complexity while speakers preferred analogy-based expressions for complex figures and shape-based expressions for simple figures. Like speech, co-speech gestures decreased over iterations. Gestures primarily accompanied shape-based references, but listeners rarely looked at these gestures, suggesting that they were recruited to aid the speaker rather than the addressee. Overall, different linguistic resources (classifier constructions vs. geometric vocabulary) imposed distinct demands on referring strategies in ASL and English.

Keywords: Cognition; Language Production; Signed Languages.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
The set of Attneave shapes used in the experiment. The letters were not shown to the participants.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Examples of referring expressions in English and ASL. The target shape described is shown in the upper left-hand corner. By convention, signs are glossed with their English translation in capital letters (CL = Classifier).
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
(A) Average round duration (seconds) per each round of ASL and English descriptions, and (B) Average active language duration per each round of ASL and English descriptions.
Figure 4.
Figure 4.
The number of primary references in (A) English and (B) ASL and secondary elaborations in English (C) and ASL (D) across six rounds of descriptions.
Figure 5.
Figure 5.
The number of primary references in (A) English and (B) ASL and secondary elaborations in English (C) and ASL (D) per four levels of shape complexity.
Figure 6.
Figure 6.
The number of co-speech gestures produced by English speakers per (A) six rounds of English descriptions, and (B) four levels of shape complexity.
Figure 7a.
Figure 7a.
Examples of a Director’s successive descriptions of the illustrated shapes in Rounds 1, 3 and 6 in English and ASL: A shape-based reference describing the geometrical features of the shape in Round 1 becomes an analogy-based reference describing the shape’s resemblance to a real object in Rounds 3–6; (CL = Classifier).
Figure 7b.
Figure 7b.
Examples of a Director’s successive descriptions of the illustrated shapes in Rounds 1, 3 and 6 in English and ASL: A shape-based reference in Round 1 remains shape-based for all rounds of description; (fs) = fingerspelling.

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