Complexity in two-handed signs in Kenyan Sign Language: Evidence for sublexical structure in a young sign language

Bibliographic Collection: 
CARTA-Inspired Publication
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Morgan, H. E.; Mayberry, R. I.
Year of Publication: 2012
Journal: Sign Lang Linguist
Volume: 15
Issue: 1
Pagination: 147-174
Publication Language: eng

This paper investigates whether two-handed signs in Kenyan Sign Language, a relatively young school-based sign language, conform to the same constraints on combinations of movement and handshape that hold in other sign languages. An analysis of 467 two-handed signs, separated into four types based on complexity, found that KSL is highly constrained, with only a few signs that violate proposed conditions. Three hypotheses to account for handshape restrictions on the non-dominant hand in highly complex signs are tested. Findings show that a universal unmarked set accounts for most of these handshapes; a language-specific unmarked set does no better; and a constraint on markedness at the featural level essentially accounts for all the signs. Further analyses discover that a preference for unmarked handshapes in the most complex signs extends to all two-handed signs to some degree. Finally, a phonotactic preference for the G/1 handshape on the dominant hand in complex signs is uncovered. Some evidence suggests that this tendency may surface in other languages as well.

DOI: DOI: 10.1075/sll.15.1.07mor