Lexical creation by signing apes

Larry Gorbet lgorbet at unm.edu
Mon May 14 17:07:36 UTC 2001

Celso Álvarez Cáccamo <lxalvarz at udc.es> wrote:

>Barbara, thanks.
>You say:
>>Homophony in signing would be iconization - recreating something that's
>Perhaps I didn't explain myself clearly. I'm not referring to the
>iconic relation between the sign vehicle /thumb moving across
>eyebrow/ and the referent 'eyebrow', but to the isomorphic relation
>between the sign configuration for 'eyebrow' and the sign
>configuration for 'browse, lettuce'. That is, /thumb moving across
>eyebrow/ is not iconic of 'lettuce' -- it is an arbitrary symbol,
>mediated by homophony in English, something like the rebus principle
>in writing. Koko seemed to be "writing", as with popular English
>usages of the type "4 U", short for "for you". But /thumb -
>'eyebrow'/ and /thumb - 'lettuce'/ are not homographous either, as
>signing is not writing. So, they are homo... what?

Actually, most signed language linguists I know would simply call
them "homophonous", using the term from spoken language linguistics
in an extended sense applying to all (real time?) languages.

There have been proposals for signed language-specific analogous
terms (e.g. _cheireme_), but

(a) they've never caught on;

(b) even if they did catch on, you'd need a mode/channel-independent
term to cover the generalizations that cut across the channel a
language uses.

Since the point of much signed language research is to sort out
properties of languages that are derivative of general properties of
language from those that are derivative of the channel used, these
generalized terms are needed.

Larry Gorbet                         lgorbet at unm.edu
Anthropology & Linguistics Depts.    (505) 883-7378
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM, U.S.A.

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