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Applied Linguistics Review

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Task-response times, facilitating and inhibiting factors in cross-signing

Ulrike Zeshan
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  • International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK
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Published Online: 2017-11-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0087


This paper reports on data from the “cross-signing” strand of a research project on Sign Multilingualism. Cross-signing investigates the ad-hoc improvised conversations of small groups of deaf sign language users who do not have fluency in any shared language. Participants were filmed in pairs when they met for the very first time, and after a contact period of 4–6 weeks together as a group. The deaf signers involved in this study are from the UK, Jordan, Indonesia, Japan, India, and Nepal. All signers are highly fluent in their own sign language, with varying competence in a language of literacy from their home country, but minimal or no overlapping competence in International Sign, English, or any other shared language between them. The participants used a wide range of multilingual and multimodal communicative resources, including their own and invented signs, fingerspelling, pointing, mouthing, gesture/mime, and various representations of writing. The article considers quantitative data from signed interactions during a picture-based elicitation game. While the overall response times taken by participants for completing the elicitation game are reduced at the end of the contact period compared to the initial contact, differentiating factors are at work that lead to different degrees of response time reduction in the individual signers. As a step towards explaining these patterns, the article explores insights into factors that may inhibit or facilitate communication between cross-signers, such as extent of contact between signers, typological distance between sign languages, or the use of literacy. Moreover, the data suggest a cumulative impact of these factors.

Keywords: cross-signing; International Sign; multilingual deaf signers; multimodal communication


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-11-02

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.

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0087.

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