The semiotic diversity of doing reference in a deaf signed language

Gabrielle Hodge*, Lindsay N. Ferrara, Benjamin D. Anible

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article describes how deaf signers of Auslan (a deaf signed language of Australia) coordinate fully conventionalised forms (such as lexical manual signs and English fingerspelling and/or mouthing) with more richly improvised semiotics (such as indicating verbs, pointing signs, depicting signs, visible surrogates and/or invisible surrogates) to identify and talk about referents of varying agency. Using twenty retellings of Frog, Where Are You? and twenty retellings of The Boy Who Cried Wolf archived in the Auslan Corpus, we analysed 4,699 tokens of referring expressions with respect to: (a) activation status; (b) semiotic form; and (c) animacy. Statistical analysis confirmed choice of strategy was most strongly motivated by activation status: new referents were expressed with more conventionalised forms (especially lexical manual signs and English mouthing), whereas maintained and reintroduced referents typically involved fewer and more richly improvised, context-dependent semiotics. However, animacy was also a motivating factor: humans and animals were often depicted via visible surrogates (not pointing signs), whereas inanimate referents favoured depicting signs and invisible surrogates. These findings highlight the role of animacy in signed language discourse and challenge the claim that informativeness decreases as cognitive saliency increases, while demonstrating the ‘pretend world’ indexicality of signed language use and the pluralistic complexity of face-to-face communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-53
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date25 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • animacy
  • indexicality
  • multimodal
  • referential cohesion
  • semiotics
  • Sign language


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