GIF-Projekt: Non-manual Signals and the Grammar of two (Related) Sign Languages

Funding period: 2013-2015

Funded by: The German Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF)

Principal Investigators: Wendy Sandler (Haifa) & Markus Steinbach (Göttingen)

Collaborative Investigator: Irit Meir (Haifa) & Annika Herrmann (Göttingen)

Research assistants: Jana Hosemann, Nina-Kristin Pendzich (Göttingen) & Svetlana Dachkovsky (Haifa)

First results of questionnaire survey
A DGS-video with the first results of our study can be found here

Project description:

This project investigates two historically related sign languages, German Sign Language (DGS) and Israeli Sign Language (ISL). The project aims to improve our understanding of the form and function of the prosodic systems used in the two sign languages and its interaction with other levels of grammar. It will investigate the distribution and the historical development of different non-manual markers and their integration with the manual (lexical) signal on the basis of data elicited with signers in both sign languages. For the historical dimension, different age groups in each sign language will be compared to each other. In addition, by comparing the grammatical properties of these non-manuals to structures with similar functions in spoken languages like Hebrew, German or English, the project also will contribute to a better understanding of the modality-specific and modality-independent aspects of the prosodic system and of the human language faculty in general. Hence, this a typologically and theoretically innovative project, both because very little comparative historical work has been done across sign languages generally, and because the linguistic structures of the two specific languages we will study have not been systematically compared to each other despite the clear historical relation between them. In addition, testing different generations will shed light on the diachronic development of these languages, since people’s grammars tend to stabilize after the critical period (Labov 1963). Furthermore, the results will be highly significant for spoken language research on intonation and the interfaces between prosody, syntax and semantics/pragmatics and provide insights into the computational system of language(s).