Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Subsystem of Numerals in Catalan Sign Language: Description and Examples from a Psycholinguistic Study

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Subsystem of Numerals in Catalan Sign Language: Description and Examples from a Psycholinguistic Study

Article excerpt

Linguistic descriptions of sign languages are essential to support their linguistic status and to preserve the cultural background of the Deaf communities that use and recreate them. We describe the subsystem of cardinal numbers in Catalan Sign Language (LSC) in the variety used in Barcelona. The description includes the parameters of hand-shape, orientation, location, direction, and movement.

We also illustrate, with some results from a psycholinguistic study, how LSC's number features influence the transcoding behavior of deaf children learning the language. Most of the errors the students commit can be explained by overgeneralization of LSC's number-system features.

LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTIONS OF SIGN LANGUAGES are important, to the recognition of their linguistic stattis. These languages are an essential part of the cultural heritage of the communities that create and use them and vital in the education of deaf children. They are also the reference point in language acquisition studies. Ours is exploratory research, and its conclusions are preliminary because of the scarcity of previous studies about the subsystem of numerals in Catalan Sign Language (LSC"). Nevertheless, we hope it will provide a useful base for future research on this aspect of LSC and other sign languages.

We found no comprehensive linguistic description of the geographic variants within the different autonomous regions that constitute the Spanish state, but analysis of existing dictionaries shows many differences between Spanish Sign Language (LSE) and Catalan Sign Langnage. Also, some research underlines differences between the sign language used in Madrid and surrounding areas and the one used by deaf people in Catalonia (Triado Tur and Fernândez Viader 1992). Furthermore, as soon as we began our research we noticed important differences between the numerals lexicon in both LSC and LSE.


Our analysis is based on three sources of data: (1) information given by deaf adults who are competent users of LSC; they are members of the Federation of Deaf Associations of Catalonia who are or were teachers of this language engaged by the federation and thus have a demonstrated mastery of it; (2) the contents of the LSC courses taught by the Federation of Deaf Associations of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain; and (3) occasional, observed situations of use in a Deaf association in 1995 and 1996.


The participants were three competent informants, so considered because they are or once were sign language teachers and belong to the Barcelona Deaf community.

Procedure. We interviewed the informants one by one in a Deaf association room. We explained to them that we were doing research on numerals in Catalan Sign Language and that we wanted a complete description of each of the variants of the numerals in LSC. We asked each informant to sign all of the correct variants of a collection of numerals written in Arabic notation. The informants appeared to understand this instruction.

After signing numerals, the informants spontaneously explained and showed the rules for signing them. The interviewer asked questions to clarify some of the rules, which on some occasions resulted in consultation between the informants and other deaf people who were present. The demonstrations included numerals that were different from those belonging to the collection previously presented.

All of the sessions were video recorded.


Each collection of numerals included the complete series from one to twenty as well as a collection of numerals chosen according to a set of criteria: number of digits; absolute and place values of the same number; presence or absence of internal and final zeros; and repeated or different digits. Some numerals were the first ones of a unit of order (e.g., 1,000). Each informant signed a different collection; nevertheless, many of numerals of the three collections were the same. …

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