Tid: Tisdag 3 maj 2016, kl 15:00-17:00
Plats: C307, Södra huset, Frescati

Seminariet tolkas till svenskt teckenspråk.

In this talk I discuss how Yucatec Maya everyday communication style can be seen a productive linguistic (back)ground for Yucatec Maya Sign Language, an emerging sign language from the Yucatec peninsula in Mexico, to evolve.

I will start showing how gesture (i.e. communicative movements of the hands and eye gaze) is essential in Yucatec Maya communication. Because, Yucatec Maya culture, at least until very recently, has never been strongly influenced by literacy (i.e. disembodied forms of communication), speakers of this language almost always rely on face-to-face communication and for this reason tend to use other semiotic channels, specifically gesture and prosody, to complement speech. Often, gesture even becomes indispensable to understand the meaning of an utterance. I will show examples of “composite utterances” (i.e. speech + gesture) following Kendon (2004) and Enfield (2009), using data from spontaneous narrations and natural conversations.

The important use of multimodality among speakers of Yucatec Maya along with a local ideology that recognizes and accepts individual differences, provides a context where people who are born deaf will have few restrictions in term of communication (at least compared to the situation of Deaf people in “western” contexts, see e.g. Johnson (1991)). The impressive repertoire of quotable gestures and the common use of iconic gestures among speakers of Yucatec Maya not only allow deaf people to follow interactions not directed to them and get some meaning out of it, but also facilitates communication among deaf and between deaf and hearing people. This interactional background, I propose, facilitates the creation of the emerging sign language known as Yucatec Maya Sign Language (or YMSL).

In this talk, I will describe some linguistic characteristics of YMSL, but I will mainly focus on particular paths of lexicalization from gestures into YMSL. One claim that I will (try to) make is how Yucatec Maya multimodal communication can be seen as a proto-YMSL language, and hence allows us to consider various Yucatec Maya Sign Languages not as separate languages, but as varieties.

Interestingly, and this will be exemplified throughout the presentation, several features of communication among speakers of Yucatec Maya communication resemble the ones in YMSL:

  • Regular face-to-face communication
  • Absence of grammatical tense (Le Guen, 2012)
  • Similar use of pointing strategies
  • Similar use of people (nick-/sign-)names attribution strategies
  • Linguistic calques

I will discuss how some of these similarities might be just coincidences and others are the result of language contact, essentially transfers from YM to YMSL.

Enfield, N. J. (2009). The anatomy of meaning speech, gesture, and composite utterances. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, R. E. (1991). Sign Language, Culture and Community in a Traditional Yucatec Maya Village. Sign Language Studies, 73, 461–474.

Kendon, A. (2004). Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Le Guen, O. (2012). An exploration in the domain of time: from Yucatec Maya time gestures to Yucatec Maya Sign Language time signs. In U. Zeshan & C. de Vos (Eds.), Endangered sign languages in village communities: anthropological and linguisitic insights (pp. 209–250). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter & Ishara Press.

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Ljuba Veselinova och Johanna Mesch