Speaker: Helen Koulidobrova
Title: Acquisition of Phonology in Icelandic Sign Language: A unique finding in a unique context
Abstract: Research shows that acquisition of sign language phonology is a developmental process and involves multiple articulatory cues. Among these cues, handshape has been shown to be crucial and orientation has been argued to be potentially disregardable as being internal to sign production rather than encoding a minimal contrast. We administered a non-word repetition task and a picture naming task to 17 (age 3-15) deaf and hard-of-hearing signers of Icelandic Sign Language (ÍTM)—an endangered indigenous language of the Deaf community in Iceland—targeting the same articulatory features. The tasks were modeled after similar assessment tools for other languages. All of the participants use ÍTM for daily activities at school and at home; the vast majority were early learners (before 36ms). Results show an upward trajectory in the non-word repetition task scores but without a ceiling effect. Contrary to predictions, no effect of handshape was observed. Instead, on both pseudo- and real-word tasks, the majority of errors were in orientation/mirroring. The finding is in line with the claims from the speech-to-sign and sign-to-sign L2 as well as atypical language development literature. The results suggest that orientation plays a non-trivial role in acquisition of sign language phonology.
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