A Mexican sign language lexicon : internal and cross-linguistic similarities and variations

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1999-12

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Mexican Sign Language, or El Lenguaje de Sefias Mexicanas (LSM), and the Deaf community of Mexico have not been extensively studied. This dissertation offers lexical analyses of LSM. Drawing from video data, I examine an elicited lexicon of LSM as articulated by six Deaf consultants from two cities: Aguascalientes and Mexico City. This dissertation focuses on signs that are articulated similarly among the consultants. Two or more sign forms are considered to be similarly-articulated when those forms share the same approximate meaning and when they share the same values on at least two of the three main parameters of handshape, movement, and place of articulation. By focusing on this set of signs, I investigate and document patterns in sign variation internal to LSM. Place of articulation is found to be relatively stable compared to the variation seen in the parameters of handshape and movement. Additionally, other patterns among the articulatory variants are found such as sets of handshapes, movements, and places that tend to vary among similarly-articulated signs. A second goal of the dissertation is to investigate whether the findings from the internal investigation of LSM are valid across other sign languages. Eduardo Huet, a deaf Frenchman, established the first school for the deaf in 1867 in Mexico City. Due to the educational influence from Huet, French Sign Language (LSF) is likely to have influenced the development of LSM. Thus, this dissertation includes a pair-wise comparison between LSM and LSF. A second pair-wise comparison included involves LSM and Spanish Sign Language (LSE) because of the shared ambient language and related ambient cultures; this comparison addresses the assumption that LSM and LSE would be similar because of linguistic and cultural similarities between Mexico and Spain. A third pair-wise comparison involves LSM and Japanese Sign Language (JSL) as a control comparison. LSM and JSL are known to have distinct historical developments and do not share an ambient language or culture. For each of the three pair-wise comparisons, I focus on the set of similarly-articulated signs. In addition to investigating articulatory patterns, I also investigate potential sources for similarly-articulated signs, i.e., whether these similarities are likely borrowings or shared icons. Not surprising, I found that the pair-wise comparison of LSM-LSF exhibited the most likely borrowings and LSM-JSL the least. Additionally, the analyses of the three pair-wise comparisons suggest a base level of similarly-articulated signs that are likely due to shared icons. The findings from the pair-wise analysis further suggest that patterns documented in the internal analysis of LSM also hold for the cross-linguistic analyses. The parameter variations among the set of similarly-articulated signs suggest a potential trend that might be valid internally and cross-linguistically for sign languages in general.

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