(Sub)lexical Changes In Iconic Signs To Realign With Community Sensibilities And Experiences

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Language In Society


Sign language lexicons include iconic items, where phonological form is somewhat representative of sense. As experiences of individuals change, the mapping from form to meaning may become inappropriate (as when technological or environmental changes occur) or may be considered incongruous with perceptions of reality (as when culture shifts). Many misalignments of form and sense are tolerated, with the result that a sign's original iconicity is lost. Other misalignments are obliterated; signers make sublexical changes or entire lexical substitutions. We call these (sub)lexical changes ‘corrections’. We argue that misalignments that are regrettable are more likely to be corrected, where regrettable misalignments are those that are not true to realities/experiences of profound importance to deaf individuals. While the focus here is on American Sign Language, corrections should be apparent in any sign language and might occur in those spoken languages with a high frequency of nonarbitrary relationships between form and sense. (Sign language, variation, taboo terms, euphemism, iconicity, identity).