Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities

By Ceil Lucas | Go to book overview

A Preliminary Examination of Pinky Extension:
Suggestions regarding Its Occurrence,
Constraints, and Function

Rob Hoopes

Studies of the phonological and phonetic structure of signed languages have indicated both parallels with and contrasts to the phonological structure of spoken languages. One interesting parallel is the description of the prosodic structure of signed languages. This paper presents findings of a preliminary study of a phonological characteristic of American Sign Language (ASL) referred to here as "pinky extension." Specifically, in certain social and linguistic environments, some signers extend their fifth digit (or "pinky") during particular signs despite the fact that the citation forms of these signs do not specify pinky extension. This study examines the signing of one such native ASL user in order to: (I) determine whether pinky extension is, in fact, an example of variation; (2) identify possible linguistic and social constraints for its occurrence; and (3) consider possible functions for its occurrence. The findings suggest that pinky extension is a phonological variable in ASL that is subject to social and linguistic constraints. The data further suggest that pinky extension functions as a prosodic feature of ASL.

Pinky extension (PE) is the extension of the fifth digit during a sign, contrary to the sign's citation form. Prior to this study, it had been observed that PE is characteristic of only certain signers (Lucas, personal communication, Spring 1995). Moreover, it had been observed that its occurrence in the speech of an individual signer seemed to be variable. For

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This study was possible only because of invaluable help from Ms. Joyce Leary and patient guidance from Dr. Ceil Lucas. I would also like to thank Dr. Peter Patrick of Georgetown University for his insightful comments in reviewing the early drafts of this paper.

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Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities
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