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[Xmca-l] Re: Z sign (John Haviland)
This is great. Count me in to any kind of a thread that deals with gesture.
> On Nov 27, 2014, at 10:52 PM, Greg Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> So I promised a while back to report back about some of John Haviland's
> findings regarding Z sign. Now that everyone (in the U.S.) is full of
> turkey and potatoes, I finally have a minute.
> Z sign refers to a sign language that has been developing among a small
> family of deaf signers in Chiapas, Mexico ("Z" stands for Zinacantecan,
> which is the spoken language of the area). John has been doing fieldwork
> there for almost 50 years and since the oldest Z signer is in her 30's, his
> fieldwork predates this emerging sign language.
> All told, there are a total of 6 people who know this sign language -
> including a bi-lingual nephew and John himself. It might be one less than
> this since it might be argued that the first and oldest Z signer is not
> properly using the language as it has emerged with the younger signers. In
> fact, the younger signers (two brothers) often make fun of their older
> sister for not being able to produce the "proper" and "correct" signs,
> sometimes in ways that appears to express rather serious judgment -
> suggesting that their sister is too stupid to know any better. As John
> notes, this is the dark side of language - the way that language behavior
> is often re-valorized as iconic of other aspects of a person's self (think
> about the U.S. example of African-American English as evaluated by
> mainstream speakers who will comment that AAE speakers must be "ignorant"
> or some such).
> John's data are fascinating through and through. For example, the sign for
> chicken involves making the gesture of a pulling the chicken's neck to
> break it.
> John documents how you can begin to see Z sign becoming grammaticalized
> with subject-verb-object structure emerging such that Z signers can produce
> full sentences and engage in quite complex conversations ("homesigners" -
> i.e., people who do not have a signing community and are born deaf to
> hearing parents and living in a hearing community - homesigners have great
> difficulty sustaining longer conversations).
> Of particular interest to XMCA conversations, John makes the point that
> these signs are both motivated (qua icons) and symbolic (not sure if I've
> quite captured his terms here, so don't quote me on that). That is to say,
> the signs, such as the gesture of breaking a chicken's neck to represent
> chicken, are both iconic and symbolic. They are the latter because the
> possibilities of making up gestural icons for chickens are massively varied
> (and if you look at American Sign Language (ASL), for example, the sign for
> chicken is to make a beak in front of your mouth with your thumb and
> forefinger). So what becomes important is that the sign becomes
> conventionalized (and note that the older sister has a different sign for
> "chicken" - hers is the gesture of holding the chicken at its shoulders,
> with both hands cupped - and this is what her brothers make fun of her
> for). These signs become "portable" - that is, they come to mean the same
> thing across contexts and with different speakers. And the brothers' sign
> for chicken is consistent across different instances of chicken. Thus, for
> example, an image of two cute fluffy little baby chicks will still get the
> neck-breaking sign plus a sign for little and a sign for two (here is
> further grammaticalization at work - classifiers and all).
> What seems to me to be one of the most interesting findings (and one that
> John finds most troubling) is that these brothers seem to have very much
> "gotten" the culture of the hearing Zinacantecan speakers with whom they
> are living. As John describes them, these brothers behave very much like
> people in the surrounding culture. It is as if they are, culturally
> speaking, Zinacantecan. Yet, on the other hand (no pun...), the grammatical
> forms of Z signers do not follow the grammatical forms of the surrounding
> language, Zinacantecan. This does not fit very well into the linguistic
> relativity argument (i.e., that the language you speak affects the way that
> you understand and think about the world). If language affects thought,
> then one would expect to find that if you have someone speaking a
> grammatically and formally different language, then that person would think
> differently from those who speak that language. And yet, here is data
> suggesting the opposite is the case.
> It seems to me that CHAT might have something to offer here with the notion
> of "activity" as a broader concept that goes beyond language. Perhaps
> something like "semiosic activity" is needed to capture all of the many
> ways in which we meaningfully interact with one another anticipating
> behaviors of others based on so much more than just language - on their
> facial expressions and bodily hexis and non-signed gestural expressions.
> This would suggest renaming the hypothesis the Semiosic Activity Relativity
> Hypothesis (SARH).
> I think that could be a quite useful turn, but it still leaves one
> wondering why these semiosic activities didn't "bleed into" the formal
> features of Z sign as it emerged among this group?
> Lots of other interesting questions to pursue here but I'll leave it at
> that for now. I wonder if folks are tired/busy from all the chatting
> (online and elsewhere).
> I'm happy to answer questions about this sign language to the best of my
> ability and/or to see if I can get John involved or at least put some
> questions to him by email and see if I can get a response.
> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Anthropology
> 880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
> Brigham Young University
> Provo, UT 84602