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Title: Describing and remembering motion events in British Sign Language
Author: Bermingham, Rowena
ISNI:       0000 0004 7652 6973
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Motion events are ubiquitous in conversation, from describing a tiresome commute to recounting a burglary. These situations, where an entity changes location, consist of four main semantic components: Motion (the movement), Figure (the entity moving), Ground (the object or objects with respect to which the Figure carries out the Motion) and Path (the route taken). Two additional semantic components can occur simultaneously: Manner (the way the Motion occurs) and Cause (the source of/reason for the Motion). Languages differ in preferences for provision and packaging of semantic components in descriptions. It has been suggested, in the thinking-for-speaking hypothesis, that these preferences influence the conceptualisation of events (such as their memorisation). This thesis addresses questions relating to the description and memory of Motion events in British Sign Language (BSL) and English. It compares early BSL (acquired before age seven) and late BSL (acquired after age 16) descriptions of Motion events and investigates whether linguistic preferences influence memory. Comparing descriptions by early signers and late signers indicates where their linguistic preferences differ, providing valuable knowledge for interpreters wishing to match early signers. Understanding how linguistic preferences might influence memory contributes to debates around the connection between language and thought. The experimental groups for this study were: deaf early BSL signers, hearing early BSL signers, deaf late BSL signers, hearing late BSL signers and hearing English monolinguals. Participants watched target Motion event video clips before completing a memory and attention task battery. Subsequently, they performed a forced-choice recognition task where they saw each target Motion event clip again alongside a distractor clip that differed in one semantic component. They selected which of the two clips they had seen in the first presentation. Finally, participants were filmed describing all of the target and distractor video clips (in English for English monolinguals and BSL for all other groups). The Motion event descriptions were coded for the inclusion and packaging of components. Linguistic descriptions were compared between languages (English and BSL) and BSL group. Statistical models were created to investigate variation on the memory and attention task battery and the recognition task. Results from linguistic analysis reveal that English and BSL are similar in the components included in descriptions. However, packaging differs between languages. English descriptions show preferences for Manner verbs and spatial particles to express Path ('run out'). BSL descriptions show preferences for serial verb constructions (using Manner and Path verbs in the same clause). The BSL groups are also similar in the components they include in descriptions. However, the packaging differs, with hearing late signers showing some English-like preferences and deaf early signers showing stronger serial verb preferences. Results from the behavioural experiments show no overall relationship between language group and memory. I suggest that the similarity of information provided in English and BSL descriptions undermines the ability of the task to reveal memory differences. However, results suggest a link between individual linguistic description and memory; marking a difference between components in linguistic description is correlated with correctly selecting that component clip in the recognition task. I argue that this indicates a relationship between linguistic encoding and memory within each individual, where their personal preference for including certain semantic components in their utterances is connected to their memory for those components. I also propose that if the languages were more distinct in their inclusion of information then there may have been differences in recognition task scores. I note that further research is needed across modalities to create a fuller picture of how information is included and packaged cross-modally and how this might affect individual Motion event memory.
Supervisor: Hendriks, Henriette Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: sign language ; British Sign Language ; sign languages ; linguistics ; Motion Events ; Talmy ; memory ; recogniton memory ; attention ; bilingualism ; English ; Linguistic Relativity ; Thinking-for-Speaking ; second language ; language learning ; bimodal