Sociolinguistic variation of two-handed signs in French Belgian Sign Language: Weak drop as a stable reduction phenomenon

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We investigate the assumption that there is a “growing observation
across unrelated sign languages that a phonological shift is occurring
over time from two- to one-handed signs” (Stamp et al. 2015: 168).
Recent works on sociolinguistic variation in two-handed signs show
evidence of change towards the one-handed variants in all subgroups
of signs under focus (symmetrical signs in (A)ASL (McCaskill et al.
2011); number signs in NZSL (McKee et al. 2011) and BSL (Stamp et
al. 2015)). A large-scale corpus study of NGT (Paligot et al. 2016)
highlights that, contrary to previous hypothesis about weak drop
(Battison 1974), there is no significant difference between symmetrical
and asymmetrical signs regarding their rates of weak hand deletion. In
the light of these results, we consider whether the change towards one
-handed forms affects the realization of all two-handed signs in a given
sign language. We analyzed all one-handed (9,5%) and two-handed
variants (90,5%) of two-handed signs (N=33,762) in the Corpus LSFB
(Meurant 2015) in relation with several (socio)linguistic factors:
discourse genre, preparedness, interactivity, age, sex, linguistic profile
and sign frequency. Results of a mixed-effects model indicate that onehanded variants are favored in conversations and explanations,
spontaneous discourses, male signers and frequent signs. No
difference between the generations of signers was observed, which, by
virtue of the apparent time construct (Bailey 2002), suggests that there
is no global change towards one-handed variants in LSFB. Instead, we
argue that weak drop is a stable reduction phenomenon in the
language, an argument strengthened by the men’s preference for the
reduced forms. This was shown to be an indicator of stable variation
pattern in several vocal languages (Labov 1990). We do not exclude
that subgroups of signs might be undergoing change in LSFB and we
call for further comparison between global and local variation
phenomena as well as between unrelated sign languages.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2018
EventFirst International Workshop on Cognitive And Functional Explorations in Sign Language Linguistics - University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 30 Jul 201831 Jul 2018


ConferenceFirst International Workshop on Cognitive And Functional Explorations in Sign Language Linguistics
Abbreviated titleSign CAFÉ 1
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

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