Wilkinson Colloquium

February 7
Rosenwald 011
University of Manitoba
Typology of Kinship Terminology in Signed Languages

Nearly all such studies have sought to understand the linguistic constraints of spoken languages, while largely neglecting signed languages. Despite the fact that spoken languages can be classified into types, signed languages are generally assumed to be clustered all together in one type which the current study challenges. Exploring the potential for a varied typology among signed languages requires identifying patterns across a sampling of geographically distinct and historically unrelated signed languages to formulate linguistic generalizations. To that end this study adopts Greenberg's 1966 analysis of Universals of Kinship Terminology, it examines the linguistic patterns that emerge from a comparison of kinship terminology in 40 signed languages, specifying what patterns can be seen in visual-gestural languages. By exploring the nature of the relationship between phonological structure and semantic domains, patterns reveal that kin terms are motivated yet contain degrees of arbitrariness, suggesting a continuum of interaction of arbitrariness and iconicity. Structural complexity in kinship terminology produces variation in grammatical marking of gender, age of referent, and generation. The analysis of male kin terms for father, father's brother, and mother's brother reveals that attested kin types are lineal, bifurcate collateral, and bifurcate merging, while generational remains unattested in the classificatory systems of signed languages' kinship terminology. Typological analyses of signed languages contribute significantly to understanding what linguistic traits appear consistently through all languages, both spoken and signed, by revealing more about the effects of the modality-independent and modality-dependent behaviors of languages in defining language universals.