A study of timing in a manual and a spoken language: American sign language and English

  • Grosjean F
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A comparative analysis of the time variables in the production of speech and sign reveals that signers modify their global physical rate primarily by altering the time they spend articulating, whereas speakers do so by chaning the time they spend pausing. When signers increase or decrease their pause time, however little they do so, they alter the number and the length of the pauses equally, whereas speakers primarily alter the number of pauses and leave their pause durations relatively constant. An analysis of the durations of signs reveals that signs are longer at the end of sentences than within sentences and that the first occurrence of a sign is longer than the second when syntactic location is controlled (both these findings have already been reported for spoken language). The inherent duration of a sign can be accounted for almost totally by the movement characteristic; handshape, location, and number of hands in a sign are of little importance. Finally, signers retain their regular "quiet-breathing" respiratory pattern across signing rates and inhale at locations independent of syntactic importance. In this they are quite unlike speakers, who breathe at syntactic breaks.

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  • François Grosjean

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