Sources of Handshape Error in First-Time Signers of ASL
This chapter reports on a study that investigates the phenomenon of “sign accent,” or systematic phonological errors made by nonsigners attempting to mimic isolated ASL signs. The study has implications for sign language teaching, where people are learning an unfamiliar language in a modality new to them. The study finds two factors relevant to how well nonsigners produce the target handshape. One is markedness; anatomical features of the hand affect dexterity in making a sign, although with qualifications. This general finding is no surprise — studies of acquisition repeatedly show the relevance of phonetic markedness. The other factor, however, is surprising: transfer of phonological features from gestures hearing people make (with or without accompanying speech) affects the ability to mimic signs.
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