• Against [lateral]: Evidence from Chinese Sign Language and American Sign Language

      Ann, Jean; Myers, James; Pérez, Patricia E.; University of Arizona (Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ), 1990)
      American Sign Language (ASL) signs are claimed to be composed of four parameters: handshape, location, movement (Sto]çoe 1960) and palm orientation (Battison 1974). This paper focuses solely on handshape, that is, the configuration of the thumb and the fingers in a given sign. Handshape is significant in ASL and Chinese Sign Language (CSL); that is, minimal pairs exist for handshape in each. Thus, the two ASL signs in (1) differ in one parameter: the handshapes are different, but the location, palm orientation and movement are the same. Similarly, the two CSL signs in (2) differ in one parameter: handshape. A logical next question asks if handshapes are further divisible into parts; more specifically, are handshapes composed of distinctive features? This question is not new; in fact, researchers have made many proposals for ASL handshape features (Lane, Boyes -Braem and Bellugi, 1979; Mandel, 1981; Liddell and Johnson, 1985; Sandler, 1989; Corina and Sagey, 1988 and others). This paper focuses on the proposal of Corina and Sagey (1988). In Section 2, I outline the proposed system for the distinctive handshapes of ASL, of which [lateral] is a part. Then using data from ASL and CSL, I give three arguments in support of the claim that there is not sufficient justification in ASL or CSL for the feature [lateral]. First, I show in Section 3 that the prediction which follows from the claim that [lateral] applies only to the thumb, namely that the thumb behaves differently from the other fingers, is not borne out by CSL data. Second, I argue in Section 4 that since other features (proposed by Corina and Sagey, 1988) can derive the same phonetic effects as [lateral], [lateral] is unnecessary to describe thumb features in either ASL or CSL. Third, in Section 5, I use ASL and CSL data to argue that the notion of fingers as "specified" or "unspecified ", although intuitively pleasing, should be discarded. If this notion cannot be used, the feature [lateral] does not uniquely identify a particular set of handshapes. I show that CSL data suggests that two other features, [contact to palm] and [contact to thumb] are independently needed. With these two features, and the exclusion of [lateral], the handshapes of both ASL and CSL can be explained. In Section 6, the arguments against [lateral] are summarized.