Justine Mertz

Membre associé

Status : Doctorante

Address :

LLF, CNRS – UMR 7110
Université Paris Diderot-Paris 7
Case 7031 – 5, rue Thomas Mann,
75205 Paris cedex 13

E-mail : wzregm@yvathvfg.havi-cnevf-qvqrebg.se


Title : Phonological contrast and feature inventories in sign language: A study on French Sign Language (LSF)

Supervision :
  Giuseppina Turco
  Carlo Geracci

PhD Defense : 2022-05-31

Inscription : 2018 à Paris Cité

Jury :

  • Diane BRENTARI, Professeure, University of Chicago, rapportrice
  • Karen EMMOREY, Professeure, San Diego State University, rapportrice
  • Ioana CHITORAN, Professeure, Université Paris Cité, présidente du jury
  • Mirko SANTORO, Chargé de recherche, Université Paris 8, examinateur
  • Giuseppina TURCO, Chargée de recherche, Université Paris Cité - CNRS, directrice de thèse
  • Carlo GERACI, Directeur de recherche, Institut Jean Nicod - Ecole Normale Supérieure - CNRS, directeur de thèse

Abstract :

In this dissertation, we aim at providing a comprehensive analysis of contrast and feature inventories in sign language (SL) from a theoretical, empirical, and experimental point of view. We use data from French Sign Language (LSF), a language still understudied and for which little is known about its phonology. First, we dig into feature-based theoretical models to better understand the nature of SL inventories. An investigation of one particular location on the hand, the webbing part of the fingers, provides us with a better sense of how to determine the content of feature inventories. We show that because of the difficulties in finding genuine minimal pairs, other forms of contrast must be used to compose phonological inventories, among which near-minimal pairs, productivity, as well as neutralization. Contrary to previous analyses based on American Sign Language (ASL), we provide evidence from LSF that the feature [web] must be included among the features that signers can use to create phonological contrast. Its status then led us to reanalyze (sub)location features as orientation features in some phonological models for SL. Our second study on features allows us to revisit the status of orientation in the composition of signs. In many phonological models, orientation is derived from a specification in handshape and a specification in location, while in others it is considered as an absolute property of the hand. Our analysis of two-handed signs produced on the signer’s body in LSF provides evidence that both are necessary for the representation of this category of signs, and the implementation of secondary planes in a formal framework allows us to do so. In the third study we capitalize at a more global level on the notion of feature and feature geometry models to capture complexity in sign articulation. We evaluate the ability of a theoretical model to reflect the complexity of signs in LSF. We compare an error-driven measure based on a repetition task, in which hearing non- signers had to copy existing signs, to a model-driven measure derived from the phonological structure of signs in the framework of the Prosodic Model (Brentari, 1998). Our results show that phonological models manage to capture overall articulatory complexity, as well as the one in handshape and location, but not in movement, the only dynamic phonological class. Altogether, these results indicate that an accurate theoretical model of sign phonology/phonetics reflects the degree of complexity as a result of the perceptual and articulatory properties of signs. In the last study, we focus on the psycholinguistic mechanisms behind the perception of contrast in SL. We explore the perception of contrast at the experimental level by conducting a study on categorical perception (CP) in LSF, in both handshape and location. We show that a CP effect is observed in handshape in Deaf signers, but not in hearing non-signers, a population never exposed to the phonological system of LSF. In location, no CP effect was observed which is in accordance with the literature. The unexpected significant effect observed in our allophonic pair in handshape puts into perspective the perception of (non-)contrastive units in SL and allows us to highlight the finesse of contrastiveness in the visual-gestural modality. From the various dimensions we have addressed in this thesis, we demonstrate that the study of LSF provide useful insights in the understanding of how distinctive features capture contrast in SL in general, as well as their role in determining sign complexity and perceiving contrast.