Formal variation in the Kata Kolok lexicon

Hannah Lutzenberger, Connie de Vos, Onno Crasborn, Paula Fikkert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Sign language lexicons incorporate phonological specifications. Evidence from emerging sign languages suggests that phonological structure emerges gradually in a new language. In this study, we investigate variation in the form of signs across 20 deaf adult signers of Kata Kolok, a sign language that emerged spontaneously in a Balinese village community. Combining methods previously used for sign comparisons, we introduce a new numeric measure of variation. Our nuanced yet comprehensive approach to form variation integrates three levels (iconic motivation, surface realisation, feature differences) and allows for refinement through weighting the variation score by token and signer frequency. We demonstrate that variation in the form of signs appears in different degrees at different levels. Token frequency in a given dataset greatly affects how much variation can surface, suggesting caution in interpreting previous findings. Different sign variants have different scopes of use among the signing population, with some more widely used than others. Both frequency weightings (token and signer) identify dominant sign variants, i.e., sign forms that are produced frequently or by many signers. We argue that variation does not equal the absence of conventionalisation. Indeed, especially in micro-community sign languages, variation may be key to understanding patterns of language emergence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlossa: a journal of general linguistics
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2021


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