Linguistics

The Department of Linguistics is heavily dependent on research for both learning and teaching because sign language linguistics is a field that has so much more to discover. The ongoing, innovative research carried out by the linguistics faculty and graduate students is contributing substantially to what is known about the structure and use of sign languages.


Analysis of the lexicon, phonology, morphology, and syntax of ZEI.

ID: 4033
Status: Ongoing
Start date: February 2020
End Date: September 2021

Description

My dissertation research will create a grammatical sketch and archives of Zaban Eshareh Irani (ZEI), the sign language used in Iran. ZEI is in critical need of empirical and usage-based research. A grammatical sketch describes a language’s phonology, morphology, lexicon, and syntax. This corpus-based/language-documentation approach results in replicable, accountable and accessible products. Very little is known about ZEI, what is available is inaccurate, prescriptive, and seeks to dramatically alter ZEI (Lotfi, Younes, et al., n.d.). This creates an environment of endangerment for ZEI as actually used by the deaf communities in Iran. ZEI is not officially recognized by the government. No empirical research is available for training interpreters, creating an accurate dictionary, providing backing for advocacy, or for continued linguistic research. Funding is needed to support annotation and development of archives. Annotation is a type of linguistic micro-analysis that is used computationally to abstract patterns from archives for macro-analysis. Best practices require annotation be carried out by fluent researchers who conduct micro-analyses. The result is research that is more representative of the language than that derived from few participants and a single researcher’s analysis. This research will support the creation of a ZEI grammatical sketch.

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ASL Discourse Structure of Personal Experience Narratives

ID: 3637
Status: Ongoing
Start date: October 2018
End Date: December 2020

Description

This linguistic study examines the usage patterns of constructed dialogue as a discourse strategy in personal experience narratives in American Sign Language (ASL) and compares them to that of English within a similar discourse context. Constructed dialogue is a discourse strategy that encodes the conceptualization of the addresser and their particular viewing of dialogue, the interlocutor(s) involved, and the manner in which the interlocutors present dialogue from a previous or imagined discourse event. Linguistic research on constructed dialogue in ASL has paralleled early English research by primarily focusing on the identification, description, and classification of constructed dialogue and its types (see Metzger, 1995; Lillo- Martin, 1995; Liddell, 2003; Dudis, 2007; Thumann, 2010). This study diverges from previous research by examining how native ASL and English users pattern constructed dialogue within a personal narrative context. Additionally, this study examines the identified patterns of constructed dialogue use by ASL and English users under a cognitive linguistic framework by using the notion of construal to examine the impacts the patterns have on meaning. Finally, the patterns of usage in ASL and English will be compared to identify in what ways do ASL users differ from English users in their patterns of constructed dialogue use.

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Bimodal Bilingual Code-blending: Language Synthesis

ID: 4016
Status: Ongoing
Start date: September 2019
End Date: December 2021

Description

The project investigates the mental language faculty from the perspective of bimodal bilingualism, or bilingualism in a sign language and a spoken language. The project studies the language of American adults with normal hearing who grew up in households with at least one Deaf parent using sign language (such adults are known as Codas), and so they learned both spoken English and American Sign Language (ASL) together. Some of the studies will involve Deaf native signers to provide a comparison baseline against which the ASL performance of the Codas is measured. The main focus of the proposed project is to investigate code-blending, the simultaneous production of (parts of) a proposition in both sign and speech, with the goal of refining a previously proposed theoretical model, the Language Synthesis model. Data will be collected using experiments that include interviews, narrative production, elicitation, and grammaticality judgments. We will also use the data to see whether Codas behave linguistically as Heritage language users, whose home language is different from the dominant community language.

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Products

Lillo-Martin, D., Müller de Quadros, R., Bobaljik, J. D., Gagne, D., Kwok, L., Laszakovits, S., & Mafra, M. (2020) Constraints on Code-blending: Evidence from Acceptability Judgments. Talk presented at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America. New Orleans, Louisiana.

Characterizing Deaf Children’s Early Communication Services: An Online Parent Survey

ID: 4022
Status: Ongoing
Start date: March 2020
End Date: December 2021

Description

Language deprivation among deaf children is a serious issue, leading the U.S. government to establish the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program. In spite of these efforts, Gallaudet’s most recent survey of deaf children and youth from 2013 reports that almost 7,000 deaf children had not been identified via newborn hearing screening. This suggests that EHDI’s screening and follow-up reports do not capture the current number of children requiring and receiving early intervention services. To understand this better, the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM) surveyed families of deaf or hard of hearing children to better understand the early intervention experiences that they receive. However, this data was only a snapshot of parent perceptions of the early intervention system and only surveyed families from 10 states. Therefore, only limited or outdated data exists; a more current and comprehensive data set is needed. This survey will elicit parent/guardian ratings of early intervention experiences and bring into focus unnoticed gaps in the early identification system across the United States. Upon survey completion, this data will be available for service providers and researchers as a valuable resource for understanding the scope of current Early Intervention needs.

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Rademacher, T. (2020) Characterizing Deaf Children’s Early Communication Services: An Online Parent Survey. Poster presented at the 19TH Annual Early Hearing Detection & Intervention (EHDI) Meeting. Kansas City, MO.

Family ASL: Bimodal bilingual acquisition by deaf children of hearing parents

ID: 4006
Status: Ongoing
Start date: August 2019
End Date: July 2024

Description

Five-year project tracking development of both American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English by young deaf children whose hearing parents are learning ASL as a second language. The study documents parents’ process of ASL learning and investigates the extent to which early but non-native ASL input, alongside a bimodal bilingual approach in school-based programs, supports linguistic and cognitive development for deaf children growing up in the most prevalent context, within hearing families.

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Chen Pichler, D. and Lillo-Martin, D. (2019, November 8-10). Motivation for L2 ASL learning by hearing parents with deaf children [Poster presentation. Boston University Conference on Language Development (BUCLD), Boston, MA, United States.

Chen Pichler, D., Gale, E. and Lillo-Martin, D. (2019, March 8-10). How to support ASL as an L1 for children and L2 for parents: An interactive discussion [Conference presentation]. Annual Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Meeting (EHDI 2020), Kansas City, MO, United States.


Language Emergence, Evolution, and Acquisition

ID: 3593
Status: Ongoing
Start date: August 2018
End Date: January 2025

Description

This is an ongoing project investigating the structures that emerge in newly-formed sign languages (e.g., Nicaraguan Sign Language) across dimensions such as phonology, morphology, syntax, and discourse. Factors including social network size (number and type of interlocutors) and the bi-directional influence of cognition and language are investigated as contributing (or not) to language emergence.

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Products

Gagne, D., Senghas, A., & Coppola, M. (2017, November). Peer interaction is necessary for full conventionalization of space in an emerging language: Evidence from hearing children of Nicaraguan signers. Presented at the Boston University Conference on Language Development, Boston, MA.


Motivated Look at Indicating Verbs in ASL (MoLo)

ID: 4009
Status: Ongoing
Start date: September 2019
End Date: September 2022

Description

Our three-year pilot study is inspired by a British Sign Language (BSL) corpus-based study on indicating verbs and uses of space. Indicating verbs can be directed towards present individuals or spatial representations of these individuals when they are not present. These representations are generally viewed in signed language linguistics to either be motivated by spatial relationships in the world or be purely arbitrary, lacking any spatial relationships whatsoever. The BSL study found strong preference of indicating verbs for motivated space, putting to question the actual role of arbitrary space in signed languages. Our corpus-based study addresses a similar question on the preferences of ASL indicating verbs for the use of arbitrary space and motivated space, but also considers five subtypes of motivated space (whereas the BSL study considers a single general type). Video data will be annotated for linguistic features relevant to indicating verbs and the use of space, followed by (a) statistical analysis revealing ASL indicating verb preferences and (b) a Conversation Analysis task of indicating verb tokens pinpointing possible interactional influences over indicating verb usage.

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Navigating Social Distancing with DeafBlind Children: ProTactile Language Acquisition in an Online Learning Environment

ID: 4012
Status: Ongoing
Start date: September 2020
End Date: February 2022

Description

Blanket directives to practice social distancing, while crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19, do not consider vulnerable populations such as DeafBlind children, who under such conditions, are at risk for social isolation and lack of critical language exposure. This project asks: How can social and linguistic channels for supporting language acquisition and cognitive development be maintained, while also adhering to rules of social engagement that are in place during the pandemic, and what can we learn about language and language creation in studying that process? Over the past decade, groups of DeafBlind adults in the United States began communicating directly with one another via reciprocal, tactile channels—a practice known as "protactile". These practices are leading to an emergent grammatical system that has yet to be acquired by any DeafBlind children. This project introduces a cohort of DeafBlind children to skilled protactile signers who will be employing novel educational materials and uniquely designed technology to facilitate language acquisition. This learning environment offers a rare opportunity to analyze the effects of the natural acquisition process as the language is transmitted from DeafBlind adult users of protactile language, who knew American Sign Language before protactile language, to DeafBlind children, who are acquiring protactile language as a first language. It is predicted that DeafBlind children will follow the general course of first language acquisition and will develop core lexical items earlier than verbs with componential morphology, thereby diverging from the path that adult signers have taken, creating forms with componential morphology before creating core lexical items. We also predict that the lexical forms created by children will adhere to protactile phonological principles more broadly than the forms created by adult protactile signers, who rely on protactile phonological principles only in a much more restricted set of signs. If confirmed, the findings will demonstrate that DeafBlind children are capable of acquiring and expanding language under conditions of social distancing, and it will shed light, for the first time, on how language at the phonological level is optimized to the tactile modality as that process unfolds from adult to child.

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Philadelphia signs

ID: 2910
Status: Ongoing
Start date: August 2015

Description

The purpose of this study is to collect interviews of native deaf Philadelphians in order to capture the Philadelphia ASL dialect for language documentation.

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Products

Fisher, J.;Tamminga, M.; Hochgesang, J.A. (2018). The historical and social context of the Philadelphia ASL Community. Sign Language Studies 18(3) 429-460. DOI: 10.1353/sls.2018.0010.

Tamminga, M. Fisher, J., & Hochgesang, J. (2019). "Weak hand variation in Philadelphia ASL: A pilot study" UPenn Working Papers in Linguistics, volume 25.2

Tamminga, M., Fisher, J., & Hochgesang, J.A. (2018, October). Weak hand variation in Philadelphia ASL: A pilot study. Presented at the 47th "New Ways of Analyzing Variation" (NWAV47). New York University. (October 18-21, 2018)


The Acquisition of ASL Morphosyntax in New Signers

ID: 3943
Status: Ongoing
Start date: January 2020
End Date: December 2020

Description

A growing number of deaf students are arriving at Gallaudet without signing experience, calling for a need to understand their unique language learning situation. Deaf learners like these have not been a focus of signed second language (M2L2) research. The influence of deaf people’s early visual experiences and the strength of their early language experience on their later visual linguistic structures has not been sufficiently explored. This project aims to address this by studying how deaf new signers’ acquisition of morphosyntactic structures in ASL is affected by their early language and visual experiences. The productions of two grammatical structures in ASL are explored: (1) grammaticized pointing and (2) narrative referent control. To disambiguate the contributions of first language (strong vs. weak) and sensory experiences (hearing vs. deaf), three groups are represented: hearing M2L2, deaf M2L2 with a strong English foundation, and deaf M2L2 with a weak English foundation. The five measures are: (1) a language background questionnaire; (2) the PIAT-R (reading comprehension); (3) the ASL-CT (ASL comprehension); (4) a morphosyntactic pointing sentence repetition task; and (5) a narrative retelling task. It is hypothesized that deaf people’s language-independent visuo-spatial abilities positively influence their use of pointing and other visuo-spatial structures.

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The Influence of Language on Cognitive Development

ID: 3595
Status: Ongoing
Start date: August 2018
End Date: June 2023

Description

This project investigates the impact of varying language experiences (language deprivation, emerging language environments, full language exposure) on cognitive abilities such as social cognition (Theory of Mind, Socio-cognitive responsiveness), Executive Functioning (working memory, inhibitory control), and Spatial Cognition. Participants include infants and adults in the United States, children and adults in Nicaragua, and children and adults in Peru.

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  • Coppola, Marie • Department of Psychological Sciences • University of Connecticut
  • Lieberman, Amy L • Wheelock College of Education and Human Development • Boston University

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The semantics of space in Sign and Gesture

ID: 3594
Status: Ongoing
Start date: August 2018
End Date: December 2020

Description

We investigate the various ways that space can be used to indicate the quantity or size of the domain across various structures in sign (verbs, quantifiers, pronouns). This is an international investigation, pulling together data from Japanese Sign Language, American Sign Language, and Nicaraguan Sign Language. We compare and contrast the results of this use of space to those used by hearing, non-signing gesturers in each of those countries/cultures to understand the elements of spatial productions that may be universal (given general human cognition) versus those that are language - or culture - specific.

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Scholarship and creative activity

2019

Hochgesang, J. A. (2019, March). Inclusion of Deaf Linguistics and Signed Language Linguistics. Panel Presentation at Georgetown University Roundtable (GURT) 2019 – Linguistics and the Public Good, Georgetown University, DC.

Hochgesang, J. A., R. Treviño, J. Willow, & E. Shaw. (2019, March). Gallaudet University Documentation of ASL (GUDA) – Documentation IS Representation. Presentation at Georgetown University Roundtable (GURT) 2019 – Linguistics and the Public Good, Georgetown University, DC.

Hochgesang, J.A. & Guity, A. (2019, July). Ethical concerns of sign language work with the Deaf communities: One Deaf Iranian man's journey from researched to researcher. Presentation at the XVIII World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf "Sign Language Rights for All"

Hochgesang, J.A. (2018, September 24). Same Modality: Different Languages - Signed Language Documentation Projects Around the World. Presentation for "International Day of Sign Languages" Celebration by the Department of ASL and Deaf Studies, the Office of the President, and the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), September 24, 2018, Gallaudet University.

2015

Torres Méndez, C. (2015, July). Let the deaf be heard in the English class. Presented at the Studies in Applied English Linguistics Conference, Seville, Spain.