Abrupt grammatical reorganization of an emergent sign language

  • German A
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This study traces the development of discrete, combinatorial structure in Zinacantec Family Homesign (‘Z Sign’), a sign language developed since the 1970s by several deaf siblings in Mexico ( Haviland 2020b ), focusing on the expression of motion. The results reveal that the first signer, who generated a homesign system without access to language models, represents motion events holistically. Later-born signers, who acquired this homesign system from infancy, distribute the components of motion events over sequences of discrete signs. Furthermore, later-born signers exhibit greater regularity of form-meaning mappings and increased articulatory efficiency. Importantly, these changes occur abruptly between the first- and second-born signers, rather than incrementally across signers. This study extends previous findings for Nicaraguan Sign Language ( Senghas et al. 2004 ) to a social group of a much smaller scale, suggesting that the parallel processes of cultural transmission and language acquisition drive language emergence, regardless of community size.




German, A. (2023). Abrupt grammatical reorganization of an emergent sign language. Diachronica. https://doi.org/10.1075/dia.22039.ger

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