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’.
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