Sign languages do not arise from thin air: rather, they emerge in communities where conventions are already in place for using gesture. Little research has considered how these conventions are retained and/or adapted as gestures are integrated into emerging sign language lexicons. Here we describe a set of five gestures that are used to convey negative meanings by both speakers and signers in a single community: the San Juan Quiahije municipality in Oaxaca, Mexico. We show that all of the form-meaning mappings present for non-signers are retained by signers as they integrate the gestures into their lexicon. Interestingly, additional meanings are mapped to the gesture forms by signers – a phenomenon that appears to originate with deaf signers in particular. In light of this evidence, we argue that accounts of ‘wholesale borrowing’ of gestures into emerging sign languages is overly simplistic: signers evidently adapt gestures as they integrate them into their emerging lexicons.
- Jämförande språkvetenskap och lingvistik