In natural languages, biological constraints push toward cross-linguistic homogeneity while linguistic, cultural, and historical processes promote language diversification. Here, we investigated the effects of these opposing forces on the fingers and thumb configurations (handshapes) used in natural sign languages. We analyzed over 38,000 handshapes from 33 languages. In all languages, the handshape exhibited the same form of adaptation to biological constraints found in tasks for which the hand has naturally evolved (e.g., grasping). These results were not replicated in fingerspelling—another task where the handshape is used—thus revealing a signing-specific adaptation. We also showed that the handshape varies cross-linguistically under the effects of linguistic, cultural, and historical processes. Their effects could thus emerge even without departing from the demands of biological constraints. Handshape’s cross-linguistic variability consists in changes in the frequencies with which the most faithful handshapes to biological constraints appear in individual sign languages.

How the hand has shaped sign languages

Miozzo, Michele;Peressotti, Francesca
2022

Abstract

In natural languages, biological constraints push toward cross-linguistic homogeneity while linguistic, cultural, and historical processes promote language diversification. Here, we investigated the effects of these opposing forces on the fingers and thumb configurations (handshapes) used in natural sign languages. We analyzed over 38,000 handshapes from 33 languages. In all languages, the handshape exhibited the same form of adaptation to biological constraints found in tasks for which the hand has naturally evolved (e.g., grasping). These results were not replicated in fingerspelling—another task where the handshape is used—thus revealing a signing-specific adaptation. We also showed that the handshape varies cross-linguistically under the effects of linguistic, cultural, and historical processes. Their effects could thus emerge even without departing from the demands of biological constraints. Handshape’s cross-linguistic variability consists in changes in the frequencies with which the most faithful handshapes to biological constraints appear in individual sign languages.
File in questo prodotto:
Non ci sono file associati a questo prodotto.
Pubblicazioni consigliate

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11577/3455063
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? 0
  • Scopus 0
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? 0
social impact