Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 3, 2018

Sign-speaking: The structure of simultaneous bimodal utterances

Ulrike Zeshan and Sibaji Panda


We present data from a bimodal trilingual situation involving Indian Sign Language (ISL), Hindi and English. Signers are co-using these languages while in group conversations with deaf people and hearing non-signers. The data show that in this context, English is an embedded language that does not impact on the grammar of the utterances, while both ISL and Hindi structures are realised throughout. The data show mismatches between the simultaneously expressed ISL and Hindi, such that semantic content and/or syntactic structures are different in both languages, yet are produced at the same time. The data also include instances of different propositions expressed simultaneously in the two languages. This under-documented behaviour is called “sign-speaking” here, and we explore its implications for theories of multilingualism, code-switching, and bilingual language production.

Funding statement: The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme; we are grateful for funding of this research under the project “Multilingual behaviours in sign language users” (MULTISIGN), Grant Agreement number 263647.


We gratefully acknowledge the Indore Bilingual Academy for facilitating our research on their campus. Most importantly, we would like to thank our participants Neha Vishwarup, Monica Punjabi Verma, Megha Gupta, and Gaurav Verma for their generous contribution to our research. Finally, we are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for comments on the initial version of this article.


Aboh, E., R. Pfau & U. Zeshan. 2006. When a wh-word is not a wh-word: The case of Indian Sign Language. In R. Singh & T. Bhattacharya (eds.), The yearbook of south Asian languages and linguistics, 11–43. Berlin – New York: Walter de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110186185.11Search in Google Scholar

Adam, R. 2012a. Language contact and borrowing. In R. Pfau, M. Steinbach & B. Woll (eds.), Sign language: An international handbook, 841–862. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.10.1515/9783110261325.841Search in Google Scholar

Adam, R. 2012b. Unimodal bilingualism in the Deaf community: Contact between dialects BSL and ISL in Australia and the United Kingdom. London: University College Ph.D. dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Baker, C. & C. A. Padden. 1978. Focusing on the nonmanual components of American Sign Language. In P. Siple (ed.), Understanding language through sign language research. Perspectives in neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics, 27–58. New York: Academic Press.Search in Google Scholar

Blackledge, A., A. Creese & R. Hu (2015) Voice and social relations in a city market. Working papers in translanguaging and translation (WP. 2). available at [Accessed 24 Jan 2017].Search in Google Scholar

Bogaerde, B. vanden & A. Baker. 2006. Code-mixing in mother-child interaction in deaf families. Sign Language and Linguistics 8. 155–178.Search in Google Scholar

Cormier, K., A. Schembri & B. Woll 2013. Pronouns and pointing in sign languages. Lingua 137. 230–247.10.1016/j.lingua.2013.09.010Search in Google Scholar

Boyes Braem, P. & R. Sutton-Spence (eds.). 2001. The hands are the head of the mouth: The mouth as articulator in sign language. Hamburg: Signum.Search in Google Scholar

Dikyuva, H. 2011. Aspectual non-manual expressions in Turkish Sign Language (TİD). MA thesis, University of Central Lancashire.Search in Google Scholar

Donati, C. & C. Branchini. 2012. Challenging linearization: Simultaneous mixing in the production of bimodal bilinguals. In T. Biberauer & I. Roberts (eds.), Challenges to linearization, vol. 114, 93–128. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.10.1515/9781614512431.93Search in Google Scholar

Donati, C. & C. Branchini. 2013. Towards a grammar for code blending (and code switching). Presented at the 11th Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR) Conference, London.Search in Google Scholar

Eckert, P. & S. McConnell-Ginet. 1992. Think practically and look locally: Language and gender as community-based practice. Annual Review of Anthropology 21. 461–490.10.1146/ in Google Scholar

Emmorey, K., H. Borinstein & R. Thompson. 2005. Bimodal bilingualism: Code-blending between spoken English and American Sign Language. In J. Cohen, K. McAlister, K. Rolstad & J. MacSwan (eds.), Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, 663–673. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Search in Google Scholar

Emmorey, K., H. Borinstein, R. Thompson & T. Gollan. 2008. Bimodal bilingualism. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 11. 43–61.10.1017/S1366728907003203Search in Google Scholar

Engberg-Pedersen, E. 1993. Space in Danish Sign Language: The semantics and morphosyntax of the use of space in a visual language. Hamburg: Signum Press.Search in Google Scholar

Ergenç, İ., S. İşsever, B. Makaroğlu & H. Dikyuva. 2014. Türk İşaret Dili (TİD) – Türkçe Çift-kanallı İkidilliliğinde Dilbilgisel Görünümler. [Linguistic aspects of Turkish sign language-Turkish bimodal bilingualism]. Presented at the 17th International Conference on Turkish Linguistics, Rouen, France.Search in Google Scholar

García, O. & L. Wei. 2014. Translanguaging: Language bilingualism and education. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.10.1057/9781137385765Search in Google Scholar

Gullberg, M. 2011. Multilingual multimodality: Communicative difficulties and their solutions in second-language use. In J. Streeck, C. Goodwin & C. LeBaron (eds.), Embodied interaction: Language and body in the material world, 137–151. Cambridge: CUP.Search in Google Scholar

Gynne, A. & S. Bagga-Gupta. 2013. Young people’s languaging and social positioning. Chaining in “bilingual” educational settings in Sweden. Linguistics and Education 24(4). 479–496.10.1016/j.linged.2013.06.002Search in Google Scholar

Hendriks, B. & S. Dufoe. 2014. Non-native or native vocabulary in Mexican Sign Language. Sign Language and Linguistics 17. 20–55.10.1075/sll.17.1.02henSearch in Google Scholar

Hiddinga, A. & O. Crasborn. 2011. Signed languages and globalization. Language in Society 40(4). 483–505.10.1017/S0047404511000480Search in Google Scholar

İşsever, S., B. Makaroğlu & İ. Ergenç. forthcoming. A Minimalist Perspective on Code Blending in TİD-Turkish Bimodal Bilingualism. In Zeshan, U. & J. Webster. Sign multilingualism. Sign Language Typology Series No. 7. Berlin & Lancaster: De Gruyter Mouton & Ishara Press.Search in Google Scholar

Johnston, T. 2013. Towards a comparative semiotics of pointing actions in signed and spoken languages. Gesture 13(2). 109–142.10.1075/gest.13.2.01johSearch in Google Scholar

Kubus, O. 2008. An analysis of Turkish Sign Language (TİD) phonology and morphology. Ankara: Middle East Technical University, Masters thesis.Search in Google Scholar

Kubus, O. & A. Hohenberger. 2011. The phonetics and phonology of TİD (Turkish Sign Language) bimanual alphabet. In R. Channon & H. van der Hulst (eds.), Formational units in sign languages, 43–63. Berlin & Nijmegen: Mouton de Gruyter & Ishara Press.10.1515/9781614510680.43Search in Google Scholar

Lucas, C. & C. Valli. 1992. Language contact in the American deaf community. New York: Academic Press.Search in Google Scholar

Meier, R. P., K. Cormier & D. Quinto-Pozos (eds.). 2002. Modality and structure in signed and spoken languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511486777Search in Google Scholar

Muysken, P. 2000. Bilingual speech: A typology of code-mixing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Myers-Scotton, C. 2002. Contact linguistics: Bilingual encounters and grammatical outcomes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198299530.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Nonaka, A. 2012. Sociolinguistic sketch of Ban Khor and Ban Khor Sign Language. In U. Zeshan & C. de Vos (eds.), Village sign languages – Anthropological and linguistic insights. Sign Language Typology Series No. 4, p. 376. Berlin & Nijmegen: De Gruyter Mouton & Ishara Press.Search in Google Scholar

Otheguy, R., O. García & W. Reid. 2015. Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review 6(3). 281–307.10.1515/applirev-2015-0014Search in Google Scholar

Perniss, P. M. 2012. Use of sign space. In R. Pfau, M. Steinbach, & B. Woll (eds.), Sign language: An international handbook, 412–431. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110261325.412Search in Google Scholar

Quadros, R., D. Lillo-Martin, H. Koulidobrova & D. Chen Pichler. 2013. Noun phrases in KODA bimodal bilingual acquisition. Presented at the 11th Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR) Conference, London.Search in Google Scholar

Quinto-Pozos, D. 2002. Contact between Mexican Sign Language and American Sign Language in two Texas border areas. Austin: University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D. dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Quinto-Pozos, D. 2008. Sign language contact and interference: ASL and LSM. Language in Society 37. 161–189.10.1017/S0047404508080251Search in Google Scholar

Quinto-Pozos, D. & R. Adam. 2015. Sign languages in contact. In A. Schembri & C. Lucas (eds.), Sociolinguistics and deaf communities, 29–60. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781107280298.003Search in Google Scholar

Roos, C. 2014. A sociocultural perspective on young deaf children’s fingerspelling: An ethnographic study in a signing setting. Deafness and Education International 16. 86–107.10.1179/1557069X13Y.0000000029Search in Google Scholar

Sandler, W. 1999. The medium and the message: Prosodic interpretation of linguistic content in Israeli Sign Language. Sign Language & Linguistics 2(2). 187–215.10.1075/sll.2.2.04sanSearch in Google Scholar

Schembri, A. 2010. Documenting sign languages. In P. Austin (ed.), Language documentation and description volume 7: Lectures in language documentation and description, 105–143. London: School of African and Oriental Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Si, A. 2010. A diachronic investigation of Hindi-English code-switching, using Bollywood film scripts. International Journal of Bilingualism 15. 388–407.10.1177/1367006910379300Search in Google Scholar

Sinha, Samar. 2009. A Grammar of Indian Sign Language. PhD dissertation, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.Search in Google Scholar

Sutton-Spence, R. 1994. Where can you see language contact between English and British Sign Language? The use of the manual alphabet in place-names and BSL. Report, Centre for Deaf Studies, University of Bristol.Search in Google Scholar

Wilbur, R. B. & L. Petersen. 1998. Modality interactions of speech and signing in simultaneous communication. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 41. 200–212.10.1044/jslhr.4101.200Search in Google Scholar

Wittenburg, P., H. Brugman, A. Russel, A. Klassmann & H. Sloetjes. 2006. ELAN: A professional framework for multimodality research. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC), pp. 1556–1559. Available at: [accessed 13 October 2015].Search in Google Scholar

Zeshan, U. 2000 Sign language in Indo-Pakistan: A description of a signed language. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.10.1075/z.101Search in Google Scholar

Zeshan, U. 2001. Mouthing in Indo-Pakistani Sign Language (IPSL): Regularities and variation. In P. Boyes Braem & R. Sutton-Spence (eds.), The hands are the head of the mouth: The mouth as articulator in sign language, 247–71. Hamburg: Signum.Search in Google Scholar

Zeshan, U. 2004a. Indo-Pakistani Sign Language. In P. Strazny (ed.), Encyclopedia of Linguistics, 524–528. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn.Search in Google Scholar

Zeshan, U. 2004b. Interrogative constructions in sign languages – Cross-linguistic perspectives. Language 80(1). 7–39.10.1353/lan.2004.0050Search in Google Scholar

Zeshan, U. & S. Panda. 2015. Two languages at hand: Code-switching in bilingual deaf signers. Sign Language and Linguistics 18. 90–131.10.1075/sll.18.1.03zesSearch in Google Scholar

Zeshan, U. & J. Webster. forthcoming. Sign multilingualism. Sign Language Typology Series No. 7. Berlin & Lancaster: De Gruyter Mouton & Ishara Press.10.1515/9781501503528Search in Google Scholar

Supplemental Material

The online version of this article (DOI: offers supplementary material, available to authorized users.

Published Online: 2018-3-3
Published in Print: 2018-3-26

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Scroll Up Arrow