Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

HAPPEN CAN'T HEAR: An Analysis of Code-Blends in Hearing, Native Signers of American Sign Language

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

HAPPEN CAN'T HEAR: An Analysis of Code-Blends in Hearing, Native Signers of American Sign Language

Article excerpt

HEARING NATIVE SIGNERS often learn sign language as their first language and acquire features that are characteristic of sign languages but are not present in equivalent ways in English (e.g., grammatical facial expressions and the structured use of space for setting up tokens and surrogates). Previous research has indicated that bimodal bilinguals draw heavily on American Sign Language (ASL) discourse structures even while predominandy speaking (Emmorey, Borinstein, and Thompson 2003; Bishop and Hicks 2005; Bishop et al. 2006; Pyers and Emmorey 2008). This article analyzes the way in which bimodal bilinguals (hereafter referred to as children of deaf adults, or Codas) simultaneously draw on both ASL and English. Data presented herein indicate that Codas exploit the integration of two grammars, as well as extragrammatical features (e.g., eye gaze, use of space) that are crucial to meaning due to the presence of ASL in their spoken English discourse and its influence on that discourse (Bishop and Hicks 2005; Bishop et al. 2006). These extragrammatical features express meaning in ways that far exceed the capabilities of grammar alone (Liddell 2003).

The addition of a signed language to bilingualism studies adds interesting dimensions, especially with regard to native signers who have both English and ASL as their first language (the participants of this research). The ability to produce aspects of two languages simultaneously is unprecedented in the area of spoken language bilingualism:

For unimodal (speech-speech) bilinguals, the vocal tract is used for output in both languages. In contrast, for bimodal (speech-sign) bilinguals, there are two output channels: the vocal tract and the hands. In addition, unimodal bilinguals perceive both languages by the same sensory system (audition), whereas for bimodal bilinguals one language is perceived auditorily and the other is perceived visually. (Emmorey, Borinstein, and Thompson 2003)

The term code-blending is also known as code-mixing in the literature, although the terms have quite different meanings when describing simultaneous utterances in bimodal output as opposed to sequential ones in unimodal output. Bimodality, therefore, offers researchers a new way of observing the alternation between, and the simultaneous production of, two very typologically distinct languages, in this case English and ASL.

This simultaneous bimodal output should not be analyzed on a strictly grammatical level because meaning is conveyed through structures that are sufficiently independent of the grammar. Applying morphosyntactic criteria to determine a base language will not suffice when the simultaneous bimodal utterances are grammatically correct in both languages. Rather, it would be more productive to determine how each language contributes meaning to the overall utterance. While this is a vastly different approach from theoretical modes such as the matrix language frame model proposed by Myers-Scotton (!993). it is a crucial one because a matrix language is not easily determined for some code-blends. Van den Bogaerde and Baker's (2005) approach, on the other hand, classifies code-blended utterances on the basis of the entire proposition. They explore the ways in which Dutch and Dutch Sign Language (Nederlandse Gebarentaal; hereafter NGT) each contributes meaning in code-blended utterances in Deaf mother/hearing child dyads. In this analysis, code-blends are classified according to van den Bogaerde and Baker's model. For the purposes of analysis, the code-blends are categorized into two groups, semantically equivalent (the two utterances express equivalent meaning) and semantically nonequivalent (each language contributes a complementary but nonequivalent meaning). The data indicate that, with the classification of semantically nonequivalent propositions, classifications beyond those described by van den Bogaerde and Baker are created and described (i.e., evaluative and elaborative code-blends). …

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