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The Emergence of Language in Social Interaction

Project description

Studying the emergence of a sign language in Bali

During spontaneous sign language genesis, signers naturally integrate gestures into their grammars. Researchers have studied this process in two famous cases: Nicaragua and Israel’s Negev desert. The EU-funded ELISA project will be studying Kata Kolok, a third sign language that emerged six generations ago due to high incidences of deafness in a Balinese village. The project aims to identify the earliest stages of this language and the mechanisms that shaped its emergence. It will focus on signing varieties in Bali to directly compare the various stages of language emergence. Through this comparative approach, it will chart the birth and development of a modern human language over the course of a century.

Objective

During spontaneous sign language genesis, signers naturally come to integrate gestural material into their grammars. Researchers have been able to track this process in two famous cases: Nicaragua and Israel’s Negev desert. This project addresses a third case: Kata Kolok (KK) arose six generations ago due to high incidences of deafness in a Balinese village. ELISA determines what the earliest stages of this language looked like and what mechanism have shaped its emergence.

Theories of sign language emergence have been based on comparisons of emergent signing varieties from geographically distinct areas and thus potentially very different gesture cultures. ELISA focuses on signing varieties within the context of Bali to enable direct comparison between the various stages of language emergence. Three potentially-interacting hypotheses are considered: gestural origins (the contribution of the spontaneous gestures used by speakers), time-depth (intergenerational transmission), and social interaction (community structure & quality of conversations).

This is achieved by
i) reconstructing the setting in which KK emerged by investigating the social interactions of homesigners and intergenerational homesign systems within the wider region;

(ii) documenting the communicative structures of these homesigners as they interact with their hearing communication partners, and by comparing these systematically to generations III-V of KK;

(iii) growing sign languages in the lab by asking hearing Balinese participants to describe events using silent gesture under various experimental conditions to test each of the hypotheses.

Through this comparative approach, ELISA brings together the fields of sign language emergence and cultural evolution and is effectively able to chart the birth and development of a modern human language over the course of a century. Given her empirical expertise in KK and rural sign languages, the PI is uniquely positioned to bring this project to fruition.

Coordinator

TILBURG UNIVERSITY- UNIVERSITEIT VAN TILBURG
Net EU contribution
€ 1 482 813,00
Address
Warandelaan 2
5037 AB Tilburg
Netherlands

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Region
Zuid-Nederland Noord-Brabant Midden-Noord-Brabant
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Links
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)