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Quite a mouthful: sources of iconicity in speech act verbs of NGT and ASL

Zurück zum Heft: Linguistische Berichte Heft 264
EUR 19,90

The paper offers the first systematic investigation of iconic form-meaning mappings in the domain of speech act verbs in Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT) and American Sign Language (ASL). It addresses the question of how pervasive the representation of linguistic action as oral speech is in sign languages. Using dictionary data coupled with consultant work, I show that oral speech forms the single most productive source of iconicity in NGT speech act verbs. This contrasts with ASL, which also draws on oral speech to encode linguistic action but to a significantly lesser degree than NGT. Depictions of oral speech may be metonymic, using mouth/jaw or tongue movement, or they may represent spoken language metaphorically via instantiations of the conduit metaphor and its sub-metaphor THE MOUTH IS A CONTAINER (FOR UTTERANCES). The second frequent motivation for iconic speech act verbs are hand movements or co-speech gestures that accompany a linguistic act. I further show that the source of iconicity correlates with how strongly a given SAV is associated with language use. Lastly, I provide a historical framework against which to interpret the frequent representation of linguistic action in terms of oral speech. I propose that different strategies for lexical borrowing coupled with a societal bias against spoken English in the American Deaf community may have discouraged the encoding of speech act verbs via oral speech in ASL.