Articulation versus perception in sign language movement
In this talk, I report on an ongoing research project on the articulatory and perceptual phonetics of movement in sign languages. In previous studies of signs with path movement, Donna Jo Napoli and I found that there is a strong preference across more than 20 languages for some directions of movement over others, which can be attributed to reduction of the articulatory effort needed to keep the torso stable while both arms are moving. In follow-up work, I found that these same signs in the same languages show only minor effects of perceptual concerns. Continuing this line of research, I explore new data concerning the distribution of both path and local movement. Preliminary results from over 30 languages suggest that perceptual concerns play a greater role in local movement than in path movement. Based on the sizes of the movements and masses involved, this is unsurprising: smaller movements are inherently harder to see (so perceptual concerns will be more important in local movement), and they involve movement of smaller masses (so articulatory concerns will be more important in path movement). This appears to be the first such large-scale typological study confirming this expected result.