International Review of Sign Linguistics - Vol. 1

By William H. Edmondson; Ronnie B. Wilbur | Go to book overview

Chapters 5
Representing Handshapes

Wendy Sandler University of Haifa

This chapter examines the representation of handshapes in sign languages. The model proposed is motivated by three types of evidence, of which the first two are most plentiful: phonemic distinctions, markedness, and assimilatory rules. I have adopted two separate theories of phonological structure in this work: the feature geometry theory of Clements ( 1985), Sagey ( 1986), and others, and the dependency theory of Anderson and Ewen ( 1987), van der Hulst ( 1989), and others. Although these two theoretical approaches are incompatible in some respects, they are compatible in others. In particular, the notion of articulator- based, hierarchically structured feature classes is adopted, together with the notion that phonological primitives at lower levels are unary, and that complex units are built by combining these primitives according to certain structural relationships.

Certain phonological constraints and processes argue for the existence of articulator-based classes of primitives adopted in feature-geometry models. At the same time, the nature of the primitives below the class level is claimed to be more abstract and less phonetic than the binary distinctive features assumed in those models. Instead, a small set of unary components that combine in dependency relationships is claimed to account for a clearly discernible property of the phonological elements at that level; namely, markedness.

The major phonological categories in sign language are traditionally held to be those of handshape, location, and movement (e.g., Klima & Bellugi, 1979; Sandler, 1989; Stokoe, 1960/ 1978). Of these, it appears that handshape is the most complex ( Corina, 1993; Corina & Sagey, 1989; Sandler, 1987a, 1987b, 1989, 1993a).

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