Authors: Matthew W. G. Dye and Torrey M. J. Loucks. Abstract - The study of second language acquisition is a significant scholarly enterprise. However, relatively few studies have looked at the acquisition of a visual language such as American Sign Language (ASL). Even then, most studies have focused upon the late acquisition of ASL by deaf adults as a function of early language experience. Almost no published research has looked at how hearing adults acquire a sign language, despite ASL being the fourth most commonly taught language at US universities (behind only Spanish, French and German).
However, the study of how hearing speakers acquire ASL has the potential to offer new perspectives on second language acquisition. Reasons for this include (1) the grammar of ASL, (2) the effectors, and (3) the modality of expression.
ASL grammar exploits space and movement in order to generate meaning, such as through spatial marking of verb agreement, adverbial modification of verb forms, and topographical representations of discourse elements. It does so by using effectors that are visible and easy to observe and record – the hands, arms, body, head and face. And all of this is achieved in a different modality – the language exploits the visual-gestural channel.
In this presentation we will start with an overview of the linguistic status of natural signed languages, contrasting them with manual communication systems that are tightly connected to spoken languages.
We will then present a recent study that used motion capture technology to capture variability in ASL production in hearing adults who are learning to express linguistic constructions through non-vocal means.
Finally, we will highlight a new research program that combines collection and analysis of an L2 corpus (in collaboration with colleagues at Stockholm University) with motion capture and electrophysiological measures of sign language processing and production.