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Referring to You and Me in French, English and French Sign language

By Stéphanie Caët, Aliyah Morgenstern, Marion Blondel and Fanny Limousin


International audiencePersonal reference is expressed through nominal expressions and pronouns in French and French Sign Language (LSF) alike. However, signs for pronouns in LSF take the same form as pointing gestures present in children’s communication system since the age of about 11 months (Bates et al. 1977, Clark 1978). Continuity between pointing gestures and language is questioned by Bellugi and Klima (1981) and Petitto (1986), based on their observations of discontinuity and pronominal inversions in deaf signing children. According to them, children’s pre-linguistic gestures are different from signs and may correspond to two distinct categories of pointing gestures: some indexical and some symbolic (Tomasello 2003). In this study, we explore the issue of (dis)continuity between gestures and words/signs. We analyze data from three longitudinal follow-ups of two French speaking children, a deaf signing child (LSF) and a bilingual hearing child (French and LSF) aged one to three, filmed at home with their parents once a month. The corpus of the bilingual child is a nice 'missing link' between the studies on hearing monolingual French children and deaf signing children since it gives us the opportunity to explore the role and the status of personal reference in the early stages of language acquisition in a (hearing) child acquiring LSF and French simultaneously. All the recordings were coded using CLAN and ELAN. Our research team worked in close contact with the CHILDES project in order to navigate from one software to the other. We conducted fine-grained analyses of all the pointing gestures/signs, pronouns and nominal expressions used by the children and the parents to make personal references and coded several parameters to characterize them (gaze, movement, direction, nature of the target, position of the interlocutor, accessibility of the referent in the previous discourse, prosody…) as well as their semantic and pragmatic functions in context. Those analyses enabled us to make a very precise description of the emergence and development of personal reference in the two girls’ productions. We extracted and categorized all the expressions used for personal reference with a particular focus on first and second person pointing gestures and personal pronouns in order to analyze their values in context. Our analyses do not lead to a differentiation between “gestures” and signs and we observe no discontinuity. A very precise description of reference to self and interlocutor in the three girls’ productions leads the us to place pointing gestures and words/signs on a continuu

Topics: sign language, gesture, language acquisition, pronouns, [SHS.LANGUE]Humanities and Social Sciences/Linguistics
Publisher: HAL CCSD
Year: 2012
OAI identifier: oai:HAL:halshs-01424067v1
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