The aim of the project is to investigate how deaf signers of BSL mimetically reproduce the actions, utterances, thoughts and feelings of themselves, other people, animals and things, using existing conversation and personal narrative data in the BSL Corpus. These highly improvised mimetic actions are referred to here as enactments. For example, a deaf signer might produce signs (equivalents of words in spoken languages) with an enactment of herself as a young child to express the sense of surprise and wonder she experienced as she learned BSL for the first time. Proficient use of enactment in deaf signed languages, including BSL, is vital for understanding others and making oneself understood. However, the use of enactment in BSL is complex and has not yet been described using large amounts of natural discourse data, such as personal narratives or conversations between deaf signers. We also do not know much about what signers use enactment for, when they use it and why, or what happens to signs used during periods of enactment. By analysing how deaf signers in the BSL Corpus use enactments, we will gain a deeper understanding of the role of enactment in BSL. We will also be able to determine if possible effects of variations are ascribed to social factors (such as the signer’s age, their age of signed language acquisition and geographical location) that have been shown to influence other aspects of signed language use, or whether they reflect more widespread and potentially universal patterns of face-to-face communication. This information will contribute to ongoing research on linguistic structure and use of BSL, as well as providing a benchmark for deaf children in bilingual English/BSL programs, and deaf and hearing adults learning BSL.

This research is funded by the Secondary Data Analysis Initiative of the Economic and Social Research Council, UK.

Project title: The use of mimetic actions by deaf signers of British Sign Language: A corpus-based study
Project team: Kearsy Cormier (PI)Gabrielle Hodge (Co-investigator), Sannah Gulamani (Research Assistant)
Project duration: 2019 – 2021