Questions In American Sign Language: A Quantitative Analysis Of Raised And Lowered Eyebrows

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Title: Questions In American Sign Language: A Quantitative Analysis Of Raised And Lowered Eyebrows
Author: Weast, Traci Patricia
Abstract: Although much of linguistic information in American Sign Language (ASL ) is conveyed through nonmanual signals , the majority of more than 40 years of research focuses on manual signs . As a result , we are just beginning to understand the role of the face , head , and upper body in signed languages , including eyebrow movement . While researchers generally agree that eyebrows play a role in questions of examined sign languages , they disagree whether upper face nonmanuals are syntactic or prosodic and intonational . Wilbur 2000 , 2003 widens the debate to suggest a layered combination in the upper face , where eyebrows represent syntax , and other upper face nonmanuals can simultaneously represent intonation and prosody . The debate over the upper face continues greatly due to a lack of quantitative data , with reliance on only qualitative movement impressions . As a result , ASL curricula do not adequately teach the role of nonmanuals , and ASL questions are often misinterpreted with serious consequences . This research presents the first quantitative analysis of eyebrows and reveals how , despite emotional state , ASL maintains linguistic distinctions between questions and statements through eyebrow height . In this study , six native Deaf participants signed yes /no questions , wh -questions , and statements , each in neutral , happy , sad , surprise , and angry states . Over 3500 measurements of consultant eyebrows were recorded from a total of 270 signed sentences . A mixed model was performed using SAS and the eyebrow levels were also charted on a timed series to see patterns . In neutral , brows for the entire sentence raise or lower , with maximums elevating 21 % for yes /no questions and lowering 30 % for wh -questions , but emotional questions show variable percent changes . Consistent distinctions across emotional states exist between sentence types , however , that depend on timing and spread of raised and lowered eyebrows . The data expand on the layering of upper face nonmanuals to support a theory for even more complexity on the face , where both sides of the debate have merit , as eyebrows simultaneously represent syntax , grammatical intonation , and other prosodic intonation that correlates to spoken languages . The work suggests that it is not brow furrowing that should be the focus of investigation into consistent patterns , but brow lowering . The data show a first glimpse at eyebrow height attached to signs in ASL , and new information on how raised and lowered eyebrows spread across constituents in ASL questions , with recommendations for curricula improvements . The results also show that ASL nonmanuals should not be compared to pitch in English but instead better correlate to the layering through pitch in tone languages .
URI: http : / /hdl .handle .net /10106 /986
Date: 2008-08-08

Citation

Questions In American Sign Language: A Quantitative Analysis Of Raised And Lowered Eyebrows. Available electronically from http : / /hdl .handle .net /10106 /986 .

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