Volume 17, Issue 3
  • ISSN 1568-1475
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9773
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



Sign languages do not arise from thin air: rather, they emerge in communities where conventions are already in place for using gesture. Little research has considered how these conventions are retained and/or adapted as gestures are integrated into emerging sign language lexicons. Here we describe a set of five gestures that are used to convey negative meanings by both speakers and signers in a single community: the San Juan Quiahije municipality in Oaxaca, Mexico. We show that all of the form-meaning mappings present for non-signers are retained by signers as they integrate the gestures into their lexicon. Interestingly, additional meanings are mapped to the gesture forms by signers – a phenomenon that appears to originate with deaf signers in particular. In light of this evidence, we argue that accounts of ‘wholesale borrowing’ of gestures into emerging sign languages is overly simplistic: signers evidently adapt gestures as they integrate them into their emerging lexicons.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Archer, Dane
    (1997) Unspoken diversity: Cultural differences in gestures. Qualitative Sociology, 20 (1), 79–105. 10.1023/A:1024716331692
    https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024716331692 [Google Scholar]
  2. Battison, Robbin
    (1978) Lexical borrowing in American Sign Language. Silver Spring, MD: Linstok Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Bauer, Anastasia
    (2013) The use of signing space in a shared sign language of Australia. PhD dissertation, University of Cologne, Cologne.
  4. Bressem, Jana & Cornelia Müller
    (2014) The family of away gestures: Negation, refusal, and negative assessment. InCornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva Ladewig, David McNeill, & Jana Bressem (Eds.), Body – language – communication: An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction (Vol.2, pp.1592–1604). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Brookes, Heather
    (2004) A repertoire of South African quotable gestures. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 14 (2), 186–224. 10.1525/jlin.2004.14.2.186
    https://doi.org/10.1525/jlin.2004.14.2.186 [Google Scholar]
  6. Calbris, Geneviève
    (1990) The semiotics of French gestures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. (2003) From cutting an object to a clear-cut analysis: Gesture as the representation of a preconceptual schema linking concrete actions to abstract notions. Gesture, 3 (1), 19–46. 10.1075/gest.3.1.03cal
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.3.1.03cal [Google Scholar]
  8. Conlin, Frances, Paul Hagstrom, & Carol Neidle
    (2003) A particle of indefiniteness in American Sign Language. Linguistic Discovery, 2 (1), 1–21.
    [Google Scholar]
  9. Cooperrider, Kensy, Natasha Abner, & Susan Goldin-Meadow
    (2018) The palm-up puzzle: Meanings and origins of a widespread form in gesture and sign. Frontiers in Communication, 3 (23). doi:  10.3389/fcomm.2018.00023
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomm.2018.00023 [Google Scholar]
  10. Cruz, Emiliana
    (2011) Phonology, tone and the functions of tone in San Juan Quiahije Chatino. PhD dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.
  11. Cruz, Emiliana & Anthony Woodbury
    (2014) Finding a way into a family of tone languages: The story and methods of the Chatino Language Documentation Project. Language Documentation and Conservation, 8, 490–524.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Cruz, Hilaria
    (2014) Linguistic Poetics and Rhetoric of Eastern Chatino of San Juan Quiahije, PhD dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.
  13. Dahl, Östen
    (2009) Typology of sentence negation. Linguistics, 17 (1–2), 79–106. doi:  10.1515/ling.1979.17.1‑2.79
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.1979.17.1-2.79 [Google Scholar]
  14. de Jorio, Andrea
    (2000) Gesture in Naples and gesture in classical antiquity : A translation of Andrea de Jorio’s La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestire Napoletano. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Ekman, Peter & Wallace V. Friesen
    (1972) Hand movements. The Journal of Communication, 22 (1), 353–374. 10.1111/j.1460‑2466.1972.tb00163.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1972.tb00163.x [Google Scholar]
  16. Engberg-Pedersen, Elisabeth
    (2002) Gestures in signing: The presentation gesture in Danish Sign Language. InRolf Schulmeister & Heimo Reinitzer (Eds.), Progress in sign language research: In honor of Siegmund Prillwitz (pp.143–162). Hamburg: Signum.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Fenlon, Jordan, Tanya Denmark, Ruth Campbell, & Bencie Woll
    (2008) Seeing sentence boundaries. Sign Language & Linguistics, 10 (2), 177–200. 10.1075/sll.10.2.06fen
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sll.10.2.06fen [Google Scholar]
  18. Fenlon, Jordan, Kensy Cooperrider, Jon Keane, Diane Brentari, & Susan Goldin-Meadow
    (2019) Comparing sign language and gesture: Insights from pointing. Glossa, 4 (1), 2. doi:  10.5334/gjgl.499
    https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.499 [Google Scholar]
  19. Hanna, Barbara E.
    (1996) Defining the emblem. Semiotica, 112 (3/4), 289–358.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Harrison, Simon
    (2009) Grammar, gesture, and cognition: The case of negation in English. Bordeaux, France: Michel de Montaigne University Bordeaux 3.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. (2018) The impulse to gesture: Where language, minds, and bodies intersect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/9781108265065
    https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108265065 [Google Scholar]
  22. Haugen, Einar
    (2001) The ecology of language. InAlwin Fill & Peter Mühlhäusler (Eds.), The ecolinguistics reader: Language, ecology, and environment (pp.57–66). London: Continuum.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Hou, Lynn & Mesh, Kate
    (2018) Documenting Chatino Sign Language [Access: Public]. Retrieved fromhttps://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1031992
  24. Hou, Lynn Y.-S.
    (2016) “Making hands”: Family sign languages in the San Juan Quiahije community. PhD dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.
  25. Hoza, Jack
    (2011) The discourse and politeness functions of HEY and WELL in American Sign Language. InCynthia B. Roy (Ed.), Discourse in signed languages (pp.69–95). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  26. INEGI
    INEGI (2015) Banco de Información INEGI. Mexico City.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Janzen, Terry
    (2012) Lexicalization and grammaticalization. InRoland Pfau, Markus Steinbach, & Bencie Woll (Eds.), Sign language: An international handbook (pp. 816–841). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110261325.816
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110261325.816 [Google Scholar]
  28. Janzen, Terry & Barbara Shaffer
    (2002) Gesture as the substrate in the process of ASL grammaticalization. InRichard P. Meier, Kearsy Cormier, & David Quinto-Pozos (Eds.), Modality and structure in signed and spoken languages (pp.199–223). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511486777.010
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511486777.010 [Google Scholar]
  29. Johnston, Trevor & Adam Schembri
    (2007) Australian Sign Language (Auslan): An introduction to sign language linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511607479
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511607479 [Google Scholar]
  30. Kendon, Adam
    (2002) Some uses of the head shake. Gesture, 2 (2), 147–182. doi:  10.1075/gest.2.2.03ken
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.2.2.03ken [Google Scholar]
  31. (2004) Gesture: Visible action as utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511807572
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511807572 [Google Scholar]
  32. (2013) Exploring the utterance roles of visible bodily action: a personal account. InCornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva Ladewig, David McNeill, & Sedinha Teßendorf (Eds.), Body – language – communication: An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction (Vol.1, pp.7–28). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Kusters, Annelies & Sujit Sahasrabudhe
    (2018) Language ideologies on the difference between gesture and sign. Language & Communication, 60, 44–63. 10.1016/j.langcom.2018.01.008
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2018.01.008 [Google Scholar]
  34. Ladewig, Silva H.
    (2011) Putting the cyclic gesture on a cognitive basis. CogniTextes. Revue de l’Association Française de Linguistique Cognitive, Vol.6. doi:  10.4000/cognitextes.406
    https://doi.org/10.4000/cognitextes.406 [Google Scholar]
  35. (2014) Recurrent gestures. InCornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva Ladewig, David McNeill, & Jana Bressem (Eds.), Body – language – communication: An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction (Vol.2, pp.1558–1575). Berlin, München, & Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. doi:  10.1515/9783110302028.1558
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110302028.1558 [Google Scholar]
  36. Le Guen, Olivier
    (2012) An exploration in the domain of time: From Yucatec Maya time gestures to Yucatec Maya Sign Language. InUlrike Zeshan & Connie de Vos (Eds.), Sign languages in village communities: Anthropological and linguistic insights (pp.209–249). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton & Ishara Press. 10.1515/9781614511496.209
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9781614511496.209 [Google Scholar]
  37. Loon, Esther van
    (2012) What’s in the palm of your hands? Discourse functions of PALM-UP in Sign Language of the Netherlands. MA thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam.
  38. Loon, Esther van, Roland Pfau, & Markus Steinbach
    (2014) The grammaticalization of gestures in sign languages. InCornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva Ladewig, David McNeill, & Jana Bressem (Eds.), Body – language – communication: An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction (Vol.2, pp.2133–2149). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. McKee, Rachel L. & Sophia Wallingford
    (2011) ‘So, well, whatever’: Discourse functions of palm-up in New Zealand Sign Language. Sign Language & Linguistics, 14 (2), 213–247. 10.1075/sll.14.2.01mck
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sll.14.2.01mck [Google Scholar]
  40. McNeill, David
    (1992) Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. Meo Zilio, Giovanni & Silvia Mejía
    (1980) Diccionario de gestos: España e Hispanoamérica, Vol.1. Bogota: Inst. Caro y Cuervo.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Meo Zilio, Giovanni, & Silvia Mejía
    (1983) Diccionario de gestos: España e Hispanoamérica, Vol.2. Bogota: Inst. Caro y Cuervo.
    [Google Scholar]
  43. Mesh, Kathryn (Kate)
    (2017) Points of comparison : What indicating gestures tell us about the origins of signs in San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language. PhD dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.
  44. Mesh, Kate
    (2018) Gesture, speech and sign in Chatino Communities [Access: Public]. Retrieved fromhttps://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1053087
  45. Mesh, Kate & Lynn Hou
    (2018b) Video examples and replication data for: Negation in San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language (archived with the Texas Data Repository: https://dataverse.tdl.org/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.18738/T8/XUX25E)
  46. Mühlhäusler, Peter
    (2003) Language of environment, environment of language: a course in ecolinguistics. London: Battlebridge.
    [Google Scholar]
  47. Müller, Cornelia
    (2004) Forms and uses of the Palm Up Open Hand: A case of a gesture family?InCornelia Müller & Roland Posner (Eds.), The semantics and pragmatics of everyday gestures (pp.234–256). Berlin: Weidler Buchverlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  48. (2017) How recurrent gestures mean: Conventionalized contexts-of-use and embodied motivation. Gesture, 16 (2), 277–304. doi:  10.1075/gest.16.2.05mul
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.16.2.05mul [Google Scholar]
  49. (2018) Gesture and sign: Cataclysmic break or dynamic relations?Frontiers in Psychology, 9. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01651
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01651 [Google Scholar]
  50. Müller, Cornelia & Gerald Speckmann
    (2002) Gestos con una valoración negativa en la conversación cubana. DeSignis, 3, 91–103.
    [Google Scholar]
  51. Nespor, Marina & Wendy Sandler
    (1999) Prosody in Israeli Sign Language. Language and Speech, 42 (2/3), 143–176. 10.1177/00238309990420020201
    https://doi.org/10.1177/00238309990420020201 [Google Scholar]
  52. Nyst, Victoria
    (2016) The depiction of size and shape in gestures accompanying object descriptions in Anyi (Côte d’Ivoire) and in Dutch (The Netherlands). Gesture, 15 (2), 156–191. 10.1075/gest.15.2.02nys
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.15.2.02nys [Google Scholar]
  53. Ormel, Ellen & Onno Crasborn
    (2012) Prosodic correlates of sentences in signed languages: A literature review and suggestions for new types of studies. Sign Language Studies, 12 (2), 279–315. 10.1353/sls.2011.0019
    https://doi.org/10.1353/sls.2011.0019 [Google Scholar]
  54. Padden, Carol A., Irit Meir, So-One Hwang, Ryan Lepic, Sharon Seegers, & Tory Sampson
    (2013) Patterned iconicity in sign language lexicons. Gesture, 13 (3), 287–308. doi:  10.1075/gest.13.3.03pad
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.13.3.03pad [Google Scholar]
  55. Palfreyman, Nicholas
    (2015) Sign language varieties of Indonesia: A linguistic and sociolinguistic investigation. PhD dissertation, University of Central Lancashire.
  56. Payrató, Lluis
    (1993) A pragmatic view on autonomous gestures: A first repertoire of Catalan emblems. Journal of Pragmatics, 20 (3), 193–216. 10.1016/0378‑2166(93)90046‑R
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(93)90046-R [Google Scholar]
  57. Payrató, Lluís
    (2014) Emblems or quotable gestures: Structures, categories and functions. InCornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva Ladewig, David McNeill, & Jana Bressem (Eds.), Body – language – communication: An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction (Vol.2, pp.1474–1481). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  58. Payrató, Lluís & Sedinha Teßendorf
    (2014) Pragmatic and metaphoric gestures – combining functional with cognitive approaches. InCornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva Ladewig, David McNeill, & Jana Bressem (Eds.), Body – language – communication: An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction (Vol.2, pp.1531–1539). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  59. Ramsey, Claire & David Quinto-Pozos
    (2010) Transmission of sign languages in Latin America. InDiane Brentari (Ed.), Sign languages (pp.46–73). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511712203.004
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511712203.004 [Google Scholar]
  60. Richie, Russell, Charles Yang, & Marie Coppola
    (2014) Modeling the emergence of lexicons in homesign systems. Topics in Cognitive Science, 6, 183–195. 10.1111/tops.12076
    https://doi.org/10.1111/tops.12076 [Google Scholar]
  61. Richie, Russell
    (2017) Conventionalization and reduction in natural language emergence: An experimental and computational model investigation. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?oi=bibs&hl=en&cluster=18241711039861139195
  62. Sandler, Wendy, Irit Meir, Sveltana Dachkovsky, Carol Padden, & Mark Aronoff
    (2011) The emergence of complexity in prosody and syntax. Lingua, 121 (13), 2014–2033. 10.1016/j.lingua.2011.05.007
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2011.05.007 [Google Scholar]
  63. Schuit, Joke
    (2013) Signs of the Arctic: Typological aspects of Inuit Sign Language. PhD dissertation, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam.
  64. Senghas, Ann, Sotaro Kita, & Aslı Özyürek
    (2004) Children creating core properties of language: evidence from an emerging sign language in Nicaragua. Science, 305, 1779–1782. 10.1126/science.1100199
    https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1100199 [Google Scholar]
  65. Streeck, Jürgen
    (2005) Pragmatic aspects of gesture. InKeith Brown & Jacob Mey (Eds.), International encyclopedia of languages and linguistics (Vol.5: Pragmatics, pp.71–76). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.
    [Google Scholar]
  66. (2009) Gesturecraft: The manu-facture of meaning. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 10.1075/gs.2
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gs.2 [Google Scholar]
  67. Teßendorf, Sedinha
    (2013) Emblems, quotable gestures, or conventionalized body movements. InCornelia Müller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva Ladewig, David McNeill, & Sedinha Teßendorf (Eds.), Body – language – communication. An international handbook on multimodality in human interaction (Vol.1, pp.82–100). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  68. Wilcox, Sherman
    (2004) Gesture and language: cross-linguistic and historical data from signed languages. Gesture, 4, 43–73. 10.1075/gest.4.1.04wil
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.4.1.04wil [Google Scholar]
  69. (2007) Routes from gesture to language. InElena Pizzuto, Paola Pietrandrea, & Raffaele Simone (Eds.), Verbal and signed languages. Comparing structures, constructs, and methodologies (pp.107–131). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  70. (2009) Symbol and symptom: Routes from gesture to signed language. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics, 7, 89–110. 10.1075/arcl.7.04wil
    https://doi.org/10.1075/arcl.7.04wil [Google Scholar]
  71. Wilcox, Sherman & Corrine Occhino
    (2016) Constructing signs: Place as a symbolic structure in signed languages. Cognitive Linguistics, 27 (3), 371–404. doi:  10.1515/cog‑2016‑0003
    https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2016-0003 [Google Scholar]
  72. Zeshan, Ulrike
    (2000) Sign language in Indo-Pakistan: A description of a signed language. John Benjamins: Philadelphia. 10.1075/z.101
    https://doi.org/10.1075/z.101 [Google Scholar]
  73. (2004) Hand, head, and face: Negative constructions in sign languages. Linguistic Typology, 8, 1–58. 10.1515/lity.2004.003
    https://doi.org/10.1515/lity.2004.003 [Google Scholar]
  74. (Ed.) (2006) Interrogative and negative constructions in sign languages. Nijmegen: Ishara Press. 10.26530/OAPEN_453832
    https://doi.org/10.26530/OAPEN_453832 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error