Argument structure and its acquisition in classifier constructions in Sign Language of the Netherlands (SLN)
(January 2011 – June 2014)

Researcher on the project:

Vanja de Lint

Vanja de Lint

Supervisors: Onno Crasborn, Paula Fikkert and Asli Özyurek

Short project description:
Sign languages differ from spoken languages using visual-spatial modality in their main mode of transmission. Thus understanding sign language structures and their acquisition helps us abstract away from limitations of the medium through which language is transmitted.

One area in which all sign languages studied so far differ radically from spoken languages is that of spatial language. All sign languages make abundant use of so-called classifier predicates which incorporate handshapes that have resemblances to the entities that are arguments of the predicates (inverted V-handshape and wiggling fingers to express somebody walking). In this project we aim to investigate these modality-specific structures and specifically how classifier constructions influence the argument structure for NGT (Nederlandse Gebarentaal/Dutch sign language) and their acquisition.

To this end we will make 5 longitudinal case studies of hearing children of Deaf adults (CODAs), who form the majority of children acquiring NGT and their deaf parents. We will test both production and comprehension of classifier constructions within argument structure alternations. The children will be tested at 4 points in time (stages) in 6-month intervals and the parents at the first and last stage. Production will be elicited on the basis of short video stories in which simple actions (somebody breaks a pencil vs. a broken pencil) take place. Productions of the parents will be elicited in two situations: when they depict these actions to another Deaf adult and to their child. This will allow a direct comparison of the input to the output patterns. Comprehension study using an eye tracker technique will investigate parents' and children's comprehension of signed sentences including the argument structure alternations. As such this will the first descriptive as well as experimental study investigating the use and development of a modality-specific aspect of signed languages, and in specifically in NGT, combining production and comprehension.

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