Friday, February 8: Laura Horton (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, February 8 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. Following the talk, please join us for the fieldworkers’ social at the Pub.

Social context and lexical structure in homesign systems
Laura Horton, UChicago

In this talk, I will present an analysis of the relationship between social context and structure in homesign systems. Homesign systems are gestural systems for communicating, created by deaf children and adults who do not have access to a standard sign language and are unable to access the spoken language in their communicative environment as sources of linguistic input. For my dissertation, I collected data from nine child homesigners, four adult homesigners, and some of their hearing friends and family members. All of the participants (N=19) in this study live in or near the town of Nebaj, Guatemala where there is no standard sign language in use.

I analyze signs produced in a lexical elicitation task using two computational measures: a jaccard similarity index – to evaluate formal/semantic overlap in signs produced by signers in contact and signers who have never interacted with each other – and a measure I call “lexical richness” – which captures the distribution of form/meanings in each homesigner’s lexicon. I find that certain patterns of interaction are associated with higher jaccard similarity scores and that homesigners with similar social networks have similar lexical richness scores.

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