Colloquium: When does a system become phonological? Grammatical regularities at the interfaces

October 30, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
Diane Brentari, Purdue University

Hockett's Design Features of language (1966) refer to "duality of patterning" when describing a system that is phonological. In order to track the emergence of a phonological system in homesign and village sign languages, I argue that it is useful to define "duality of patterning" more broadly than the manner in which it is typically understood. The notion will be expanded to include interface phenomena. To investigate potential interface phenomena of sign language grammars, stimulus vignettes of motion and location events —- both transitive and intransitive —- were shown to four participant groups. Object handshapes and handling handshapes, which are morphologically productive in signers, were elicited in signers, gesturers, and homesigners. As expected, in object handshapes were associated with (1) high finger complexity (phonology) and (2) intransitive event descriptions (syntax) in signers, but not in gesturers.  Homesigners resembled signers along both dimensions, suggesting that this is a useful way to illuminate a type of 'proto-phonology'.

This work provides a new way of tracking the emergence of sign language phonology by showing that in the absence of distinctive and allophonic distributions, one might look beyond the phonology per se to see how phonological distinctions emerge via interface phenomena. The notion of "inter-componential" duality of patterning may also be useful for examining the states of pidgin varieties of spoken languages.