Acquisition of phonology in child Icelandic Sign Language: Unique findings

Elena Koulidobrova, Nedelina Ivanova


Research shows that acquisition of sign language phonology is a developmental process and involves multiple articulatory cues. Among these cues, handshape has been shown to be crucial and orientation has been argued to be potentially disregardable as being internal to sign production rather than encoding a minimal contrast. We administered a non-word repetition task and a picture naming task to 17 (age 3-15) deaf and hard-of-hearing signers of Icelandic Sign Language (ÍTM) – an endangered indigenous language of the Deaf community in Iceland – targeting the same articulatory features. The tasks were modeled after similar assessment tools for other languages. All of the participants use ÍTM for daily activities at school and at home; the vast majority were early learners (before 36ms). Results show an upward trajectory in the non-word repetition task scores but without a ceiling effect. Contrary to predictions, no effect of handshape was observed.  Instead, on both pseudo- and real-word tasks, the majority of errors were in orientation/mirroring. The results suggest that orientation plays a non-trivial role in acquisition of sign language phonology


sign language phonology; non-word repetition task; picture naming

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Copyright (c) 2020 Elena Koulidobrova, Nedelina Ivanova

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