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From Gesture to Language

Like any language, the natural sign languages of deaf communities differ from each other in their grammars and lexicons. A growing number of studies indicates that sign languages make use of the gestures of hearing speakers to build linguistic structure. This implies that variation and similarities in co-speech gesturing may lead to variation and similarities in the structure of (unrelated) sign languages.

This VIDI project aims to test this implication by comparing 6 unrelated sign languages in West Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and Senegal) and their gestural environments. The comparison will focus on the expression of size and shape, as in some of these West African sign languages an unusual type of body-based size and shape constructions has been observed. We will compare size and shape constructions in an emerging and an established sign language, to study the way in which gestural constructions conventionalize into linguistic elements.

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