Speaker Series: Susan Fischer

Feb 19, 2015 at - | IRCS Conference Room

Sign Language Surprises:
Things we thought were true about all sign languages but it turns out they aren’t, or at least not necessarily
Susan FischerCUNY Graduate Center

Until quite recently, most research on sign languages has been on those sign languages based originally in Europe, such as American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), Auslan, the sign languages of Scandinavia, and a number of others.  This rather narrow range of languages has colored our ideas of what sign languages are like and what they can and cannot do.  My work over the last 20 years has concentrated on the sign languages of East Asia, especially the Japanese Sign Language family.  In this presentation, I shall discuss commonalities among diverse established sign languages, such as verb agreement and the use of classifiers.  Then I shall concentrate on differences between Asian and Western sign languages in word formation, syntax, and the use of prosody to convey syntactic distinctions. If time permits, I shall then return to the proposed commonalities and speculate on why they don’t fully extend to so-called “village”or “shared" sign languages.