Emphatic fingerspelling as code-mixing in American Sign Language

Kathryn Montemurro, Diane Brentari


In this paper, we propose a view of fingerspelling in American Sign Language (ASL) not only as cross-modal lexical borrowing (Padden & Gunsauls 2003), but also as code-mixing. Using corpus data from public online video sources, we show that fingerspelling can be utilized for pragmatic and sentential purposes aside from the more generally cited uses (e.g. personal names, technical terms, gaps in the lexicon). Namely, it may be used to put emphasis on a particular word, generally in focus constructions. This motivation for fingerspelling is used with items which have a well-attested lexical alternative. In these cases, fingerspelling is not necessary but rather driven by its function in the discourse.


bilingualism; language contact; code-mixing; fingerspelling; sign language; American Sign Language

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v3i1.4357

Copyright (c) 2018 Kathryn Montemurro, Diane Brentari

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