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Towards a Classification of Weak Hand Holds

Vadim Kimmelman / Anna Sáfár
  • Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University, PO Box 9103, NL-6500 HD Nijmegen, the Netherlands
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Onno Crasborn
Published Online: 2016-06-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2016-0010


The two symmetrical manual articulators (the hands) in signed languages are a striking modalityspecific phonetic property. The weak hand can maintain the end position of an articulation while the other articulator continues to produce additional signs. This weak hand spreading (hold) has been analysed from various perspectives, highlighting its prosodic, syntactic, or discourse properties. The present study investigates corpus data from Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT) and Russian Sign Language (RSL), two unrelated sign languages, in order to question the necessity of a sign-language specific notion of ‘buoy’ introduced in the discourse analysis of American Sign Language by Liddell (2003). Buoys are defined as weak hand holds that serve as a visible landmark throughout a stretch of discourse, and several types are distinguished based on their function and form. In the analysis of nearly two and a half hours of narratives and conversations from NGT and RSL, we found over 600 weak hand holds. We show that these holds can be analysed in terms of regular phonetic, syntactic, semantic, or discourse notions (or a combination thereof) familiar from the linguistic study of spoken languages, without the need for a sign language-specific notion of ‘buoy’.

Keywords: Russian Sign Language; Sign Language of the Netherlands; simultaneity; buoys; weak hand holds; non-dominant hand spreading


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About the article

Received: 2015-09-12

Accepted: 2016-06-01

Published Online: 2016-06-16

Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 2, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2016-0010.

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© 2016 Vadim Kimmelman et al.. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

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