Shared context facilitates lexical variation in sign language emergence.

Katie Mudd, Connie de Vos, Bart De Boer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

It has been suggested that social structure affects the degree of lexical variation in sign language emergence. Evidence from signing communities supports this, with smaller, more insular communities typically displaying a higher degree of lexical variation compared to larger, more dispersed and diverse communities. Though several factors have been proposed to affect the degree of variation, here we focus on how shared context, facilitating the use of iconic signs, facilitates the retention of lexical variation in language emergence. As interlocutors with the same background have similar salient features for real world concepts, shared context allows for the successful communication of iconic mappings between form and culturally salient features (i.e., the meaning specific to an individual based on their cultural context). Because in this case the culturally salient features can be retrieved from the form, there is less pressure to converge on a single form for a concept. We operationalize the relationship between lexical variation and iconic affordances using an agent-based model, studying how shared context and also population size affects the degree of lexical variation in a population of agents. Our model provides support for the relationship between shared context, population size and lexical variation, though several extensions would help improve the explanatory power of this model
Original languageEnglish
Article number31
Pages (from-to)31-56
Number of pages26
JournalLanguages
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Keywords

  • lexical variation
  • sign language
  • Agent-based modeling

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