Learning to use space in the L2 acquisition of a signed language

Authors Eveline Boers-Visker , Beppie van den Bogaerde
Published in Sign Language Studies
Publication date 1 December 2019
Type Article


Full text met HU account Although people all over the world learn sign languages as a second language (SL2), there is scant literature on sign language acquisition processes to guide professionals in the field. This study focuses on one of the modality-specific phenomena that SL2 learners with a spoken language background encounter that do not exist in their native language (L1): the use of space for grammatical reasons. We analyzed the sign language production data of two learners of Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT) who we followed for four years. Data comprise interviews that were coded for use of space. Use of space was operationalized by measuring the number of occasions of pointing signs, agreement verbs, classifier verbs, and spatially modified signs from the nominal domain. In addition, we identified examples of typical L2 signing (e.g. errors of overgeneralization, omissions, et cetera). Data show that learners initially produce modified signs that have a gestural counterpart. It might be that they "borrow" signs from the gestural domain, or they produce these highly iconic structures because their gestural inventory has helped them to acquire these structures. Furthermore, the data show that particularly classifier verbs and agreement verbs within a constructed action sequence pose challenges for the learners, and we observed some general error patterns that have been found in L1-learners, such as stacking and reversing the movement path of agreement verbs


Language English
Published in Sign Language Studies
Year and volume 19 3
Key words sign language, second language acquisition, Language & languages, Classifiers (Linguistics), linguistics
Page range 410-452

Eveline Boers-Visker