Name dropping: location variation in Australian Sign Language

Adam Schembri, Trevor Johnston, Della Goswell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents the results from the first study in the Sociolinguistic Variation in Australian Sign Language project (Schembri and Johnston 2004). This major project is a replication in the Australian deaf community of the quantitative investigations into variation in American Sign Language (ASL) that were conducted by Lucas, Bayley, and Valli (2001). In this specific study, we consider variation in the location parameter in a class of signs that includes the Australian Sign Language (Auslan) signs THINK, NAME and CLEVER In their citation form, these signs (like signs in the same class in ASL) are produced in contact with, in proximity to, or at the same height as the signer's forehead or above but often may The illustrations in this paper were produced by Shaun Fahey. This research was supported by Australian Research Council grant number LP346973 under the Linkage Scheme to the University of Newcastle and the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. As our chief consultants on the project, Ceil Lucas and Bob Bayley happily shared materials, passed on invaluable advice, and provided inspiration, support and encouragement. Barbara Horvath has also been particularly helpful; a copy of her Filemaker Pro database (created by her daughter Jane Horvath) saved us hours of work in database design, and her hands-on VARBRUL training was much appreciated. Julia Allen (Sydney), Patti Levitzke-Gray (Perth), Kevin Cresdee (Adelaide), Stephanie Linder (Melbourne), and Kim Pickering (Brisbane) acted as our deaf contact people and research assistants. Robert Adam, Breda Carty, Donovan Cresdee, and Brent Phillips provided useful input, and Darlene Thornton assisted with data coding. We are grateful to the management and staff at the Deaf Society of New South Wales, Deaf Education Network, Renwick College, the Thomas Pattison School, the Western Australian Deaf Society, the Royal South Australian Deaf Society, the Victorian Deaf Society, and the Queensland Deaf Society for assistance during data collection. Thanks to Don Kohlman and Pam Spicer for providing accommodation in Perth and Brisbane. Finally, we are especially grateful to the many deaf people across Australia who participated in this study. be produced at locations lower than the forehead, either on other parts of the signer's body (such as at the cheek) or in the space in front of the signer's chest. Here, we present an analysis of 2,446 tokens of signs from this class that were collected from 205 deaf signers of Auslan in five sites across Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide). The results indicate that the variation in the use of the location parameter in these signs reflects both linguistic and social factors, as has also been reported for ASL. Despite similarities, however, we find that some of the particular factors at work, and the kinds of influence they have on variation in location, appear to differ in Auslan and ASL. Moreover, our results suggest that lexical frequency also plays a role, a factor not considered in the ASL study. The paper is organized into four parts. First, we provide a brief overview of sociolinguistic variation in Auslan and review the previous work on location variation in ASL by Lucas, Bayley, and Valli (2001). We then present the methodology used in our study, followed by a description of the results. Last, we discuss the implications of our findings for the understanding of sociolinguistic variation in signed and spoken languages.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMultilingualism and sign languages
Subtitle of host publicationfrom the Great Plains to Australia
EditorsCeil Lucas
Place of PublicationWashington, DC
PublisherGallaudet University Press
Number of pages36
ISBN (Print)9781563682964
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

Name Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities Series

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