Phonetic implementation of phonological categories in Sign Language of the Netherlands

Author: Onno Crasborn
LOT Number: 48
ISBN: 90-76864-10-1
Pages: 373
Year: 2001
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This thesis describes several patterns of phonetic variation in Sign
Language of the Netherlands. While lexical variation between different
regions has been found in the Netherlands, little is known about
phonetic or phonological variation - for example between different
signers or between different communicative situations.
Phonetic variation in the realization of some of the traditional handshape
and orientation features is analyzed in detail. Furthermore,
data were elicited from different registers: short-distance signing
('whispering') was compared to long-distance signing ('shouting').
Results show that differences between registers lead not only to variation
in movement size, but also to changes in the traditional phonological
categories. In enlarged realizations, as in shouting, handshape
and orientation changes may be enhanced by a location
change; in reduced forms, as in whispering, location changes may be
realized as changes in orientation or handshape. While the distinction
between the three parameters handshape, orientation and location
remains valid, it is argued that their definition needs to be stated
in global perceptual targets rather than in detailed articulatory
terms in a comprehensive analysis of the various differences between
registers.
The data thus provide evidence for a strict separation of perceptual
and articulatory characterizations of signs. The lexical specification
contains only perceptual targets. The strong claim is made that
states of the joints of the arm and hand need not be specified until
the phonetic implementation stage of sign production. The variants
of signs that are found are thereby analyzed as different articulations
of a constant perceptual target. The variation is thus not generated
by a phonological process, but is a matter of phonetic implementation.
This study is of interest to linguists studying sign languages, and to
researchers interested in the phonetics-phonology interface.

This thesis describes several patterns of phonetic variation in Sign
Language of the Netherlands. While lexical variation between different
regions has been found in the Netherlands, little is known about
phonetic or phonological variation - for example between different
signers or between different communicative situations.
Phonetic variation in the realization of some of the traditional handshape
and orientation features is analyzed in detail. Furthermore,
data were elicited from different registers: short-distance signing
('whispering') was compared to long-distance signing ('shouting').
Results show that differences between registers lead not only to variation
in movement size, but also to changes in the traditional phonological
categories. In enlarged realizations, as in shouting, handshape
and orientation changes may be enhanced by a location
change; in reduced forms, as in whispering, location changes may be
realized as changes in orientation or handshape. While the distinction
between the three parameters handshape, orientation and location
remains valid, it is argued that their definition needs to be stated
in global perceptual targets rather than in detailed articulatory
terms in a comprehensive analysis of the various differences between
registers.
The data thus provide evidence for a strict separation of perceptual
and articulatory characterizations of signs. The lexical specification
contains only perceptual targets. The strong claim is made that
states of the joints of the arm and hand need not be specified until
the phonetic implementation stage of sign production. The variants
of signs that are found are thereby analyzed as different articulations
of a constant perceptual target. The variation is thus not generated
by a phonological process, but is a matter of phonetic implementation.
This study is of interest to linguists studying sign languages, and to
researchers interested in the phonetics-phonology interface.

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