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Seminar on The Role of Iconicity in Sign Language Acquisition
posted by Department of Linguistics for HKU and Public
Event Type: Public Lecture/Forum/Seminar/Workshop/Conference/Symposium
Event Nature: Culture and Arts

Event Details

HKU Linguistics Seminar Series

The Role of Iconicity in Sign Language Acquisition

Gerardo Ortega
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen

The study of iconicity, defined as the direct relationship between a linguistic form and its referent, has gained momentum in recent years. In the spoken modality, there is abundant evidence showing that iconicity is a key factor that facilitates acquisition. However, when we look at sign languages, which excel in the prevalence of iconic structures, there is a more mixed picture. While the first studies investigating first language (L1) acquisition report a null or negative effect of iconicity, recent studies show that it may be a key factor that facilitates lexical development in deaf children. Similarly, studies exploring the acquisition of a sign language as a second language (L2) by hearing adults show positive and negative effects in lexical development. In this talk I will present a number of empirical studies that aim to reconcile these conflicting arguments. Regarding L1 acquisition I will argue that the contradicting findings may relate to iconicity being defined in a very broad sense, and that when operationalise iconicity into more fine-grained types we can observe an effect. In particular I will argue that signs representing bodily actions may occupy a chief place in sign L1 acquisition. Regarding sign L2 acquisition, I will demonstrate that there is a clear dissociation in the effect of iconicity in that it facilitates conceptual-semantic aspects of sign learning but hinders the acquisition of the exact phonological form of signs. I will argue that when we consider the gradient nature of iconicity and that signs consist of a phonological form attached to a meaning we can discern how iconicity impacts sign learning in positive and negative ways.


Date/Time21/09/2017 15:30-17:00
VenueRoom 4.04, 4/F Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU

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Should you have any enquiries, please feel free to contact Ms Golly Lo by email at or by phone at 39178606.