Sign Language Prosodic Cues in First and Second Language Acquisition

Diane Brentari, Purdue University

In this paper the prosodic structure of American Sign Language (ASL) narratives will be analyzed in three groups: two groups of native (L1) signers and one group of highly proficient, second language (L2) signers. The results of this study show that the performance in the native hearing, bilingual group is due to both to their ASL language experience, and, under certain conditions, to their experience as hearing gesturers using co-speech gesture. The goals of the present study are: (1) to better understand the prosodic cues used by L1 and L2 users of ASL, (2) to contextualize these findings with respect to cross-linguistic tendencies, register, and task, and (3) to begin to understand the role that gestural experience has on L2 prosody of ASL. The results suggest that a lifetime of experience gesturing while speaking may have some effect on the prosodic cues used by hearing signers, similar to the effects of an L1 on an L2.