Volume 13, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1387-9316
  • E-ISSN: 1569-996X
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As an interface phenomenon, prosody interacts with all components of grammar, even though it is often subsumed under the broad area of phonology. In sign languages, an equivalent system of prosody reveals interesting results with regard to modality-independent notions of language structure. This paper presents data from a study on German Sign Language (Deutsche Gebärdensprache, DGS) and investigates prosodic cues on the basis of annotated video data. The focus of the study was on eye blinks and their use in prosodic structuring of signed utterances. Systematic methodology, annotation, and statistical evidence provided the basis for a thorough analysis of blinking behavior in DGS. The results suggest a consistent use of certain eye blinks as markers to indicate prosodic phrase boundaries. A constant 70%/30% ratio of prosodic and non-prosodic blinks further indicates the efficient use of this device. Even though some aspects of blinking are subject to inter-signer variation, the prosodic use of blinks is intriguingly similar across signers. However, blinks are not obligatory boundary markers in DGS. I propose an analysis that takes into account various factors such as syntactic constituency, prosodic structuring, and particularly the interplay of various nonmanuals such as eye gaze, head nods, and facial expressions. The fine-grained distinction of blinks resulting from a modified categorization for eye blinks and additional statistical computations give insight into how visual languages realize phrase boundaries and prosodic marking and to what extent they use the system consistently.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): eye blinks; German Sign Language (DGS); intonation; nonmanual features; prosody
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