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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

This paper examines the turn-taking organization between two deaf-blind signers of Bay Islands Sign Language (BISL) and discusses how this language presents unique intra- and cross-linguistic variation. Following the framework of conversation analysis adapted to tactile sign languages, a case study was done on an extract of a conversation in the BISL corpus. One area of intra-linguistic variation is influenced by whether signers can perceive the language visually as well as tactilely. Signers use non-manual markers like nodding to backchannel when interacting with others who may be able to perceive them visually, but tactile-proprioceptive backchanneling techniques with blind interlocutors. Variation is also influenced by the type of co-formation employed by the signer. Cross-linguistically, this paper introduces several features which differ from previous descriptions of tactile languages. BISL signers are seen to nod with conversational purpose. Also, a novel technique for turn yielding in BISL involving throwing the hands of the interlocutor in the air has not been previously documented. The particular demographics and social history of the BISL community seem to be responsible for a number of features which differ from other tactile languages.

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