Two faces of sign: iconic and abstract

Autor/a: BELLUGI, Ursula; KLIMA, Edward S.
Año: 1976
Editorial: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 280, 514-538
Tipo de código: Copyright
Soporte: Digital




In this paper, we show that the total range of the communication system of the deaf is considerably enriched but at the same time rendered more difficult to analyze, because pantomime and other spontaneous nonsign representations occur in the same mode as regular ASL signs in deaf discourse. We note that the rarification of what was originally nonsign depiction is clearly an important source of regular ASL signs. We show that criteria can be established that would distinguish the clear cases of pantomime from the regular ASL signs. Nonetheless, there remain a sizable number of regular ASL signs which, although they are neither pantomimic nor otherwise freely mimetic, still appear to retain an iconic cast. We show that very few ASL signs are actually transparent; that is, a nonsigner cannot guess the meaning of a sign in the absence of further information. On the other hand, many signs are iconic in the sence that nonsigners, when given the sign and its meaning, show considerable agreement in how the two are related. More important in terms of language and its users is the significance of iconicity for deaf signers themselves. This paper shows that while in special circumstances the deaf do play on iconic elements of certain signs for special effects, iconicity plays no observable role in the coding of signs in short-term memory. The abstract formational parameters definitely dominate. We further note that it is the abstract system and not purely iconic aspects that have determined observed historical changes in the form of ASL signs. We interpret this as indicating the deeper structural significance of the abstract formational level. Finally, we show that very widespread and productive grammatical processes, especially suited for a visual-gestural language, override the iconic aspects of signs also at the synchronic structural level.