Iconicity as a pervasive force in language
: Evidence from Ghanaian Sign Language and Adamorobe Sign Language

  • Mary Edward

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    In this dissertation, I investigate various manifestations of iconicity and how these are demonstrated in the visual-spatial modality, focusing specifically on Ghanaian Sign Language (GSL) and Adamorobe Sign Language (AdaSL). The dissertation conducts three main empirical analyses comparing GSL and AdaSL. The data for the analyses were elicited from deaf participants using lexical elicitation and narrative tasks. The first study considers iconicity in GSL and AdaSL lexical items. This study additionally compares the iconic strategies used by signers to those produced in gestures by hearing non-signers in the surrounding communities. The second study investigates iconicity in the spatial domain, focusing on the iconic use of space to depict location, motion, action. The third study looks specifically at the use of, simultaneous constructions, and compares the use of different types of simultaneous constructions between the two sign languages. Finally, the dissertation offers a theoretical analysis of the data across the studies from a cognitive linguistics perspective on iconicity in language. The study on lexical iconicity compares GSL and AdaSL signers’ use of iconic strategies across five semantic categories: Handheld tools, Clothing & Accessories, Furniture & Household items, Appliances, and Nature. Findings are discussed with respect to patterns of iconicity across semantic categories, and with respect to similarities and differences between signs and gestures. The result of this study demonstrates that varied iconic patterns for different semantic domains emerge within the sign languages (and gesture) and provide valuable insight into the typology of sign languages and into the community-mediated interplay between sign and gesture in their shared access to the iconic affordances of the visual modality. The analysis of iconicity in the grammatical constructions expressing location, motion and action focuses on similarities and differences between the two sign languages in signers’ telling of a narrative. The analysis shows that the expression of iconicity in the grammatical domain depends on different predicate types, e.g., classifier and lexical predicates and the use of signing perspectives. Although GSL and AdaSL do not show substantial differences in their use of predicate types and perspectives, we identify the possible language contact as reason for some novel structures in AdaSL. The third study investigates the different types of simultaneous constructions (SC) in GSL and AdaSL. The analysis indicates that GSL and AdaSL use different types of SC to almost the same degree. Some of the results from AdaSL were unexpected considering previous research on SC. The cognitive linguistics approaches to iconicity considers the different ways in which grammatical organisation mirrors experience. The framework perceives iconic structures to be instantiated by the meaningfulness of the phonological parameters and the meaningfulness is influenced by signers’ experiential knowledge.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorPamela Perniss (Supervisor), Sherman Wilcox (Supervisor) & Tim Wharton (Supervisor)

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