The Grammatical Incorporation of Demonstratives in an Emerging Tactile Language

In this article, we analyze the grammatical incorporation of demonstratives in a tactile language, emerging in communities of DeafBlind signers in the US who communicate via reciprocal, tactile channels—a practice known as “protactile.” In the first part of the paper, we report on a synchronic analysis of recent data, identifying four types of “taps,” which have taken on different functions in protacitle language and communication. In the second part of the paper, we report on a diachronic analysis of data collected over the past 8 years. This analysis reveals the emergence of a new kind of “propriotactic” tap, which has been co-opted by the emerging phonological system of protactile language. We link the emergence of this unit to both demonstrative taps, and backchanneling taps, both of which emerged earlier. We show how these forms are all undergirded by an attention-modulation function, more or less backgrounded, and operating across different semiotic systems. In doing so, we contribute not only to what is known about demonstratives in tactile languages, but also to what is known about the role of demonstratives in the emergence of new languages.

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