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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

In this pilot study of variation in Philadelphia ASL, we connect two forms of weak hand variability to the diachronic location asymmetries that Frishberg 1975 observed for changes between one- and two-handed sign realizations. We hypothesize that 1) variable weak hand involvement is a pathway for change from one- to two-handed and thus should be more frequent for body signs than head signs, and 2) variable weak hand lowering is a pathway for change from two- to one-handed and thus should be more frequent for head signs than body signs. Conversational data from four signers provides quantitative support for hypothesis (1) but not (2). We additionally observe differences in weak hand height based on sign location and one/two-handedness. The results motivate further work to investigate the possibility that weak hand involvement is a mechanism for diachronic change in sign languages.

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