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Iconicity in emerging silent gesture communication: Influences from repair strategies.

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Micklos, A. (2015). Iconicity in emerging silent gesture communication: Influences from repair strategies. Talk presented at 10th International Symposium on Iconicity in Language and Literature. Tubingen, Germany. 2015-03-26 - 2015-03-28.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-7B73-7
The research presented here on language emergence and conventionalization examines the issue of iconicity from a perspective of disambiguating meanings from a single form. From an experiment in which interacting dyads must use silent gestures to disambiguate easily confusable (in the gestural modality) nouns and verbs in a card trading task, we can glean how reliance on iconic forms may change in signed languages. Many of the noun-verb targets in this study are often represented iconically in co-speech gesture production; consider the co-speech gesture for “hammering” and “a hammer”- both likely involve a fisted hand wielding an imagined hammer, moving up and down on a (real or imagined) flat surface. While this iconic gesture is concrete in its meaning in co-speech production, silent gestures require additional information to determine if the gesture refers to the object or the action, often achieved through (morphological) marking. As participants negotiate form-meaning pairs in this disambiguation task, they rely on repair strategies that can enforce iconic forms in the noun or verb, as well as their markers. For example, verb targets with gerund endings, called the progressive form, often emerge as a “rolling” gesture, indicating an on-going event. However, as the gestural system is passed down to new users, the repair strategies- namely clarification repairs- tend to drive non-iconic markers for nouns, while verbs maintain iconic marking. Participants’ early reliance on iconicity demonstrates the communicative power of this feature, especially in newly emerging systems. A similar phenomenon can be observed with early users of new sign languages as well as home-signers , as they rely on iconic structures for communication- namely with hearing individuals. Over time, signed languages often evolve less iconicity, and in turn more symbolic structure, as their use becomes established within a community.