Linguistics ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 12-18-2016


This dissertation uses corpus data from ASL and Libras (Brazilian Sign Language), to investigate the distribution of a series of static and dynamic handshapes across the two languages. While traditional phonological frameworks argue handshape distribution to be a facet of well-formedness constraints and articulatory ease (Brentari, 1998), the data analyzed here suggests that the majority of handshapes cluster around schematic form-meaning mappings. Furthermore, these schematic mappings are shown to be motivated by both language-internal and language-external construals of formal articulatory properties and embodied experiential gestalts.

Usage-based approaches to phonology (Bybee, 2001) and cognitively oriented constructional approaches (Langacker, 1987) have recognized that phonology is not modular. Instead, phonology is expected to interact with all levels of grammar, including semantic association. In this dissertation I begin to develop a cognitive model of phonology which views phonological content as similar in kind to other constructional units of language. I argue that, because formal units of linguistic structure emerge from the extraction of commonalities across usage events, phonological form is not immune from an accumulation of semantic associations. Finally, I demonstrate that appealing to such approaches allows one to account for both idiosyncratic, unconventionalized mappings seen in creative language use, as well as motivation in highly conventionalized form-meaning associations.


Cognitive Phonology, Signed Languages, Usage-based Approaches

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Linguistics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Sherman Wilcox

Second Committee Member

Jill Morford

Third Committee Member

Phyllis Wilcox

Fourth Committee Member

Joan Bybee

Fifth Committee Member

Teenie Matlock

Included in

Linguistics Commons