Phonological Categories in Sign Language of the Netherlands: The Role of Phonetic Implementation and Iconicity

Author: Els van der Kooij
LOT Number: 55
ISBN: 90-76864-16-0
Pages: 327
Year: 2002
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The Role of Phonetic Implementation
and Iconicity

This thesis provides a phonological analysis of the lexicon of Sign
Language of the Netherlands (SLN). It aims at a phonological representation
that is constrained in its structure and limited in the number
of phonological distinctions. The economy of this model contrasts
with earlier models, mostly based on American Sign Language, which
proposed an abundance of phonological features. The reduction is
achieved in two ways. First, fewer phonological contrasts are needed
by removing the form elements that are predictable on phonetic
grounds, on the basis of perception and articulation. Phonetic
Implementation Rules account for these predictable elements. The
second strategy, called Semantic Prespecification, is novel, and does
justice to the iconic character of many signs and to the idiosyncratic
nature of their phonetic components. The phonetic elements that
bear meaning due to their iconic motivation are prespecified in the
lexicon.

The analysis is presented along the lines of the traditional division
into handshape, location and orientation. Movement is treated as the
dynamic part of these components. A phonetic database (SignPhon)
was used to assess the relative frequency of form elements, which is
reflected in the model as relative complexity of the representations.
For each component the distinctive features are provided that are
needed for a formal description of SLN lexical signs, together with a
characterization of the Phonetic Implementation, and a discussion of
the semantically motivated elements. With the semantically motivated
prespecified phonetic elements, the distinctive features in conjunction
with their phonetic interpretation account for all surface forms
of SLN.

This study is of interest to linguists studying sign languages, and to
researchers interested in the issue of iconic motivation and linguistic
structure.

The Role of Phonetic Implementation
and Iconicity

This thesis provides a phonological analysis of the lexicon of Sign
Language of the Netherlands (SLN). It aims at a phonological representation
that is constrained in its structure and limited in the number
of phonological distinctions. The economy of this model contrasts
with earlier models, mostly based on American Sign Language, which
proposed an abundance of phonological features. The reduction is
achieved in two ways. First, fewer phonological contrasts are needed
by removing the form elements that are predictable on phonetic
grounds, on the basis of perception and articulation. Phonetic
Implementation Rules account for these predictable elements. The
second strategy, called Semantic Prespecification, is novel, and does
justice to the iconic character of many signs and to the idiosyncratic
nature of their phonetic components. The phonetic elements that
bear meaning due to their iconic motivation are prespecified in the
lexicon.

The analysis is presented along the lines of the traditional division
into handshape, location and orientation. Movement is treated as the
dynamic part of these components. A phonetic database (SignPhon)
was used to assess the relative frequency of form elements, which is
reflected in the model as relative complexity of the representations.
For each component the distinctive features are provided that are
needed for a formal description of SLN lexical signs, together with a
characterization of the Phonetic Implementation, and a discussion of
the semantically motivated elements. With the semantically motivated
prespecified phonetic elements, the distinctive features in conjunction
with their phonetic interpretation account for all surface forms
of SLN.

This study is of interest to linguists studying sign languages, and to
researchers interested in the issue of iconic motivation and linguistic
structure.

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