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Title: Sociolinguistic variation, language change and contact in the British Sign Language (BSL) lexicon
Author: Stamp, R. J.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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BSL exhibits considerable regional lexical variation. Results from previous studies suggest that there has been a reduction in regional differences since the introduction of BSL on television (Woll et al., 1991) and increased regional contact (Woll, 1987). Based on these findings, this project aims to investigate lexical variation and change in BSL and its relationship to regional contact. Regional variation in the signs for colours, countries, numbers and UK place names were analysed from the BSL Corpus Project data (Schembri et al., under review) to consider their correlation with signers’ age, gender, school location, social class, ethnicity, teaching experience and language background (whether the signer has deaf or hearing parents). The results suggest that levelling may be taking place with younger signers using a decreasing variety of regionally distinct variants. Dialect contact and long-term linguistic accommodation are considered to be contributing factors in levelling (Trudgill, 1986). To investigate this as a possible explanation for language change, 25 pairs of BSL signers from different regional backgrounds were involved in a conversational ‘Diapix’ task (Van Engen et al., 2010) and a comprehension task. Observation of the conversational data reveals that, despite conflicting evidence as to the degree of comprehension of BSL regional varieties (e.g., Kyle & Allsop, 1982; Woll et al., 1991), participants had no difficulties understanding one another. It appears that signers from different regions often rely on English mouthing produced simultaneously with signing to disambiguate the meaning of regional signs. Results also suggest that participants performed best comprehending Birmingham and London varieties. Lexical accommodation was found to be minimal suggesting that language change in BSL is not influenced primarily by contact with other varieties but rather that language change appears to be the result of recent changes in language transmission (i.e., the closure of schools for deaf children)
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available