From Seed to System: The Emergence of Non-Manual Markers for Wh-Questions in Nicaraguan Sign Language

Autor/a: KOCAB, Annemarie; SENGHAS, Ann; PYERS, Jennie
Año: 2022
Editorial: Languages, 7(2), 137
Tipo de código: Copyright
Soporte: Digital


Lingüística » Lingüística de otras Lenguas de Signos


At a language’s inception, what determines which elements are taken up to build a grammar? How is the initial raw material reshaped through intergenerational language learning? We approached this question by focusing on the emergence of non-manual wh-question markers in Nicaraguan Sign Language (LSN), a young sign language. We asked whether the seeds of non-manual markers originate in the facial gestures of the hearing Nicaraguan community, and we explored the iterated process by which a form becomes selected and then systematized through generational transmission. We identified six non-manual facial and body movements produced with questions by 34 deaf LSN signers, representing three sequential age cohorts of learners, and compared them to those produced by 16 non-signing Spanish speakers. We examined the frequency and duration of each non-manual, and its temporal overlap with a question word. One non-manual, the brow furrow, was overwhelmingly represented among LSN signers, despite appearing rarely among non-signers and not being initially favored in duration or temporal overlap. With the second and third cohorts, the brow furrow emerges as a frequent and systematic marker. With each cycle of child learners, variable input was transformed into a more constrained set of grammatical forms.