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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Agenzia Nazionale di Valutazione del Sistema Universitario e della Ricerca: Classe A

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Volume 2009, Issue 174


Symbiotic symbolization by hand and mouth in sign language

Wendy Sandler
Published Online: 2009-04-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.2009.035


Current conceptions of human language include a gestural component in the communicative event. However, determining how the linguistic and gestural signals are distinguished, how each is structured, and how they interact still poses a challenge for the construction of a comprehensive model of language. This study attempts to advance our understanding of these issues with evidence from sign language. The study adopts McNeill's criteria for distinguishing gestures from the linguistically organized signal, and provides a brief description of the linguistic organization of sign languages. Focusing on the subcategory of iconic gestures, the paper shows that signers create iconic gestures with the mouth, an articulator that acts symbiotically with the hands to complement the linguistic description of objects and events. A new distinction between the mimetic replica and the iconic symbol accounts for the nature and distribution of iconic mouth gestures and distinguishes them from mimetic uses of the mouth. Symbiotic symbolization by hand and mouth is a salient feature of human language, regardless of whether the primary linguistic modality is oral or manual. Speakers gesture with their hands, and signers gesture with their mouths.

Keywords:: sign language; gesture; mouth gesture; iconic; hand and mouth; symbolization

About the article

Published Online: 2009-04-02

Published in Print: 2009-04-01

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2009, Issue 174, Pages 241–275, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.2009.035.

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