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The Department of Anthropology Four-Field Colloquium Series: "Action, gesture & grammar: 'iconicity' in Zinacantec Family Homesign" by John Haviland

Monday, November 14, 2011
12:00 AM
411 West Hall

This presentation concentrates on a central question about linguistic signs: where do they come from? Previous research on manual gesture in Zinacantec Tzotzil allows direct attention to putative semiotic sources for this homesign, as well as potential links between the surrounding spoken Mayan language and the emerging sign language. Using both natural observation and semi-experimental results, the talk will discuss the apparent progression from visible action, to “iconic” co-speech gesture, and finally to grammaticalized "portable" signs which can be emancipated from the immediate context of speaking, as well as the related processes of what might be called meta-iconic regimentation.
ABSTRACT This paper presents preliminary results from a first generation "family" sign language developing in a Tzotzil-speaking village in highland Chiapas, Mexico. The family includes three profoundly deaf individuals who have never met other deaf people, never been exposed to another sign language, hardly been to school, and had virtually no contact with speakers of any language other than Tzotzil. The deaf individuals, who range from their early twenties to their early thirties, along with a fourth intermediate hearing sibling and a slightly younger hearing niece, have grown up using and contributing to a shared manual communicative system. Additionally, a now four-year-old child is simultaneously acquiring his mother and uncles' homesign and spoken Tzotzil. Intensive fieldwork on this tiny emerging speech community began in 2008. This presentation concentrates on a central question about linguistic signs: where do they come from? Previous research on manual gesture in Zinacantec Tzotzil allows direct attention to putative semiotic sources for this homesign, as well as potential links between the surrounding spoken Mayan language and the emerging sign language. Using both natural observation and semi-experimental results, the talk will discuss the apparent progression from visible action, to “iconic” co-speech gesture, and finally to grammaticalized "portable" signs which can be emancipated from the immediate context of speaking, as well as the related processes of what might be called meta-iconic regimentation.