UBC Theses and Dissertations
A preliminary study of the characteristics of style-switching in American sign language as a function of participants Glazer, Susan Merryl
This study was designed to isolate and describe the features of American Sign Language (ASL) that vary according to social parameters. Two assumptions underlie this proposition: ASL is a natural language of the world, and users of languages of the world demonstrate variation in style which is triggered by specific social factors. The study examined and compared linguistic and paralinguistic features of a native ASL user's signing under different social conditions. Six people took part in the study. The principal subject or Sender was a profoundly deaf, native signer of ASL. Five other people acted as Receivers. They were all users of ASL and differed from the Sender in one or several of the social variables: age, occupation and proficiency in ASL. The Sender signed seven tasks to each Receiver separately. The tasks included instructions, paraphrase, directions for completion of a puzzle and questions. Each Sender-Receiver dyad was videotaped in a recording studio. Data was transcribed and analyzed for evidence of seven performance parameters including lexicon, morphology, syntax, rate, headtilt, body movement and amplitude. It was predicted that each of the social variables would contribute to a unique Receiver profile based on amount of use of each performance parameter. The results of this study show that the Sender modified his signing of each task to each Receiver. The modifications were not as systematic on the basis of social variables as predicted. Comparison of Receiver profiles reveals two styles of signing, distinct from a third neutral style. The Sender's signing to a child, who ranked lower than himself in terms of age, occupation and signing proficiency was characterized by redundancy of the message and reliance on parameters that augmented clarity. The second distinct style seen in the Sender's performance to an adult, who ranked higher than himself on all three social variables, was marked by increased complexity. Comparison of tasks revealed a marked distinction between the Instructions and the Paraphrase tasks, thereby establishing a profile for an information-giving style and a story-telling style. This investigation was able to furnish preliminary information about what changes occur in ASL given different tasks and different participants.
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