Different strokes

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Kendon’s foundational proposals about the phrasing of gesture are applied to the emerging syntax of the multimodal utterances in “Z,” a first-generation sign language emerging among three deaf siblings and their hearing-age mates in an indigenous Mexican community. I build on the composition and dynamics of Kendon’s “gesture units” to formalize a productive phrase-structure grammar for Z, and to highlight areas where the linguistic needs of signers apparently elaborate on this grammar and both extend and regiment it to produce phrasal and clausal units. Questions about “strokes,” different sorts of juncture, and interactive constraints on conversational signing elucidate possible links between gesture and sign and potentially shed light on the nature and origins of language itself.


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