June 8th: Gabrielle Hodge & Sannah Gulamani

Showing and seeing: enactment in British Sign Language conversations

Gabrielle Hodge & Sannah Gulamani, Deafness Cognition & Language Research Centre, University College London

Tuesday, June 8 2021, 11:00-12:00 BST
Zoom Details: [Please Request]

It is widely accepted that investigations of enactment (non-conventional, improvised, bodily depictions of events) are integral for understanding the origins and evolution of language (see e.g., Żywiczyński, Wacewicz & Sibierska, 2018). However, there is significant disconnect in how enactment in spoken and signed languages is understood and analysed, which inhibits cross-modal comparability and investigation of the role of deaf signed languages in evolutionary theory. Here we take the position that both signers and speakers use improvised bodily enactment with and without more conventionalised semiotic strategies to mimetically depict the actions, utterances, thoughts and feelings of themselves, other people, animals, and things (Tannen, 1989; Metzger, 1995). Proficient use of enactment in deaf signed language ecologies is vital for understanding others and making oneself understood (see e.g., Cormier, Smith & Zwets, 2013; Ferrara & Johnston, 2014). Indeed, enactment is just one of several strategies for depicting in face-to-face communication, which are tightly integrated with strategies for describing and indicating (Clark, 1996; see also Ferrara & Hodge, 2018). However, unlike with spoken languages (e.g., Hakulinen & Selting, 2005), little is known about signed conversations, and the role of non-conventional semiotics during these interactions. One question is how signers use bodily enactment to visibly depict a referent while indexing other ‘invisible’ referents in the signing space around them. This enables signers to ‘show’ one referent with their body while simultaneously ‘seeing’ another (Winston, 1991; Engberg-Pedersen, 1993; Liddell, 2003). Here we describe how deaf signers of British Sign Language (BSL) do this during dyadic conversations, to highlight the coordinated complexity of depiction and indexicality within enactments occurring in everyday interactions between deaf signers of an established deaf community signed language.