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Sign Language And Linguistics


When the arms move in certain ways, they can cause the torso to twist or rock. Such extraneous torso movement is undesirable, especially during sign language communication, when torso position may carry linguistic significance, so we expend effort to resist it when it is not intended. This so-called “reactive effort” has only recently been identified by Sanders and Napoli (2016), but their preliminary work on three genetically unrelated languages suggests that the effects of reactive effort can be observed cross-linguistically by examination of sign language lexicons. In particular, the frequency of different kinds of manual movements in the lexicon correlates with the amount of reactive effort needed to resist movement of the torso. Following this line of research, we present evidence from 24 sign languages confirming that there is a cross-linguistic preference for minimizing the reactive effort needed to keep the torso stable.


lexical frequency, linguistic universals, phonetics, sign languages, ease of articulation


This work is a preprint that is freely available courtesy of John Benjamins Publishing.
The final publication version can be found: (2016). Sign Language And Linguistics. Volume 19, Issue 2. 197–231. DOI: 10.1075/sll.19.2.02san. This work is © John Benjamins Publishing Company; the publisher should be contacted or permission to re-use or reprint the material in any form.

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