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Of the body and the hands: patterned iconicity for semantic categories*

  • SO-ONE HWANG (a1), NOZOMI TOMITA (a2), HOPE MORGAN (a1), RABIA ERGIN (a3), DENIZ İLKBAŞARAN (a1), SHARON SEEGERS (a4), RYAN LEPIC (a1) and CAROL PADDEN (a1)...
abstract
<span class='sc'>abstract</span>

This paper examines how gesturers and signers use their bodies to express concepts such as instrumentality and humanness. Comparing across eight sign languages (American, Japanese, German, Israeli, and Kenyan Sign Languages, Ha Noi Sign Language of Vietnam, Central Taurus Sign Language of Turkey, and Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language of Israel) and the gestures of American non-signers, we find recurring patterns for naming entities in three semantic categories (tools, animals, and fruits & vegetables). These recurring patterns are captured in a classification system that identifies iconic strategies based on how the body is used together with the hands. Across all groups, tools are named with manipulation forms, where the head and torso represent those of a human agent. Animals tend to be identified with personification forms, where the body serves as a map for a comparable non-human body. Fruits & vegetables tend to be identified with object forms, where the hands act independently from the rest of the body to represent static features of the referent. We argue that these iconic patterns are rooted in using the body for communication, and provide a basis for understanding how meaningful communication emerges quickly in gesture and persists in emergent and established sign languages.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: So-One Hwang, Center for Research in Language, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., MC 5602, La Jolla, CA 92093. e-mail: soone@ucsd.edu
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*

This work was supported by funding from NIH R01 DC 6473. We thank research assistants Elizabeth Hodgdon, Desiree Hollifield, Ezra Plançon, Diana Andriola, Rehana Omardeen, Jessica Hernandez, Man Manh, Jason Javier, and Emma Washburn. We are also grateful to all participants and the Ha Noi Association for the Deaf for their contributions to the data presented in this project.

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