A corpus-based study of the role of headshaking in negation in Auslan (Australian Sign Language): implications for signed language typology

Trevor Johnston*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    18 Citations (Scopus)
    130 Downloads (Pure)


    Signed languages have been classified typologically as being manual dominant or non-manual dominant for negation. In the former negation is conveyed primarily by manual lexical signs whereas in the latter negation is primarily conveyed by nonmanual signs. In support of this typology, the site and spread of headshaking in negated clauses was also described as linguistically constrained. Headshaking was thus said to be a formal part of negation in signed languages so it was linguistic, not gestural. This paper aims to establish the role of headshaking in negation in Auslan with reference to this typology. In this corpus-based study, I show that Auslan users almost always negate clauses using a manual negative sign. Although headshakes are found in just over half of these manually negated clauses, the position and spreading behaviour of headshakes do not appear to be linguistically constrained. I also show that signers use headshakes as the sole negating element in a clause extremely rarely. I conclude that headshaking in Auslan appears similar to headshaking in the ambient face-to-face spoken language, English. I explore the implications of these findings for the proposed typology of negation in signed languages in terms of the type of data that were used to support it, and assumptions about the relationship between gesture and signed languages that underlie it.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)185-231
    Number of pages47
    JournalLinguistic Typology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2018

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright de Gruyter 2018. Article originally published in Linguistic Typology, Volume 22, Issue 2, Pages 185–231. The original article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/lingty-2018-0008. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • negation
    • sign language
    • corpus
    • typology
    • gesture
    • headshake


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