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Patterned iconicity in sign language lexicons

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Abstract

Iconicity is an acknowledged property of both gesture and sign language. In contrast to the familiar definition of iconicity as a correspondence between individual forms and their referents, we explore iconicity as a shared property among groups of signs, in what we call <i>patterned iconicity</i>. In this paper, we focus on iconic strategies used by hearing silent gesturers and by signers of three unrelated sign languages in an elicitation task featuring pictures of hand-held manufactured tools. As in previous gesture literature, we find that silent gesturers largely prefer a <i>handling</i> strategy, though some use an <i>instrument</i> strategy, in which the handshape represents the shape of the tool. There are additional differences in use of handling and instrument strategies for hand-held tools across the different sign languages, suggesting typological differences in iconic patterning. Iconic patterning in each of the three sign languages demonstrates how gestural iconic resources are organized in the grammars of sign languages.

References

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