Linguistics Colloquium: Rose Stamp

21/04/2020 - 14:00 - 15:30

Rose Stamp, Adi Ben-Israel, Hagit Hel-Or, Shmuel Raz and Wendy Sandler

Title: “‘It’s just a gay thing’: A comparative kinematic analysis of gestures and signs in Israel”

(This talk will be delivered online via Zoom)

Abstract: Sign languages show considerably examples of lexical variation, systematically constrained by a number of social factors, such as age, region and language background (Stamp et al., 2014; Lucas et al., 2001). Despite this rich variation, few studies to date have found any example of accent variation – that is, variation in the way the sign is produced and constrained by the signer’s social background. One such study in American Sign Language claimed that there are motion-specific features, such as a larger volume of signing space, which are characteristic of the Black deaf community (McCaskill, Lucas, Bayley, & Hill, 2011). However, this study did not consider whether the features of this sign language ‘accent’ are unique to the signing Black community or whether they are just a feature of the wider hearing Black population (e.g., ‘gesturers’). Our study explores the motions produced by signers of Gay Sign Variant (GSV), a sign language accent used by gay male signers and identified across multiple sign languages (Blau, 2015; Rudner, 1981; Kleinfeld & Warner, 1996). In a preliminary study, we compared the kinematic motions of six gay Israeli Sign Language (ISL) signers and six straight ISL signers, using Microsoft Kinect motion-tracking technology. We found that there are differences between gay and straight ISL signers; signs produced by gay individuals were longer in distance travelled (p<.001), faster in speed (p<.029) and further in the distance between elbow and body plane (p<.001), than signs produced by straight signers. Unlike the study on Black ASL, we did investigate whether these features are unique to gay ISL signers or whether they are just a feature of being gay. We elicited comparable gesture sequences from 12 hearing people in two groups: gay and straight. Our initial results reveal that the gestures of our gay hearing group also differ in the same features (distance travelled, speed and distance between elbow and body plane) compared to the gestures of our straight hearing group. This suggests that the features which characterise GSV are also shared by the wider gay community, rather than part of a sign language accent.