Iconic metaphors and the gesture-sign interface in German Sign Language – corpus data meet experiments

Investigators:
Prof. Dr. Annika Herrmann, University of Hamburg
Prof. Dr. Natalia Filatkina, University of Hamburg

Project description:
This project investigates iconic metaphorsin German Sign Language (DGS) from a linguistic perspective to disentangle the gesture-sign interface with regard to figurative language. Previous assumptions of research on metaphors in different signed languages suggest a double mapping, i.e., both a metaphorical and an iconic mapping. The metaphorical mapping refers to the understanding of one concept (target domain) by using elements of another non-related concept (source domain) without the associated literal meaning. This link between concepts is based on similarity or analogy and a unidirectional relation. Iconic mapping is realized by either the form of the sign or the iconic place of articulation (PoA). Following these assumptions, this research investigates metaphorical signs in an established corpus of DGS from the DGS-Korpus project by identifying the iconic PoA, analyzing contextual uses and frequency relations, and combining these results with experimental processing studies. Due to double mapping, recognizing metaphors in signed languages differs from the identification of metaphors in spoken languages. The iconic feature seems to be unique to the visual-gestural modality as indicated by studies on metaphorical gestures as well. The iconic properties of metaphorical signs also raise interesting questions regarding the gesture-sign interface as it is not yet clear where on the gesture-sign-continuum they can be positioned. Thus, this project innovatively addresses metaphors in DGS, specifically in the domains of cognition and perception, from a multi-methodological point of view and will investigate i) how iconic metaphorical signs can be detected in a sign language corpus and how they are structurally composed, i.e., to what extent natural data from corpus narration and interaction tasks shed light on the gesture-sign distinction, ii) whether there is a difference in processing signs with a literal or metaphorical meaning or gestures (EEG experiment), and iii) how different types of metaphors in written German are processed by DGS native signers and whether iconic metaphors in the L1 (DGS) influence processing of metaphors in the L2 (written German)(eye tracking experiment). Beyond new insights at the gesture-sign interface with regard to figurative language, this project will also have an impact on debates about linguistic diversity and literacy, and the field of language teaching and education.