Shared sign languages typically emerge in rural settings with a high incidence of often hereditary deafness and are used by both hearing and deaf community members (de Vos & Pfau, 2015). Thus, they provide the perfect case study to see how a sign language can emerge alongside an existing spoken language (de Vos, Roberts, & Thompson, 2016), providing insights into language emergence and evolution. Though features present in the emergence of shared sign languages differ on many levels (Zeshan & de Vos, 2012), it is unclear which ones allow for language emergence. Proposed influences are a small community size, high incidence of deafness and consanguineous marital patterns. To investigate, we turn to a computational model inspired a shared sign language called Kata Kolok in Bali to understand what are the key features allowing for shared sign language emergence. The model investigates gene-culture co-evolution by studying the relationship between genetic deafness and sign language. Language is modeled by the interaction of agents in a simple communication game occuring in the manual or vocal modality. To determine if agents use sign or speech in their interaction, the prior language use of agents is taken into account, and if one of the agents interacting is deaf, the interaction occurs in the manual modality. The social structure of the society is used to determine which agents communicate, such that family members and agents in the same clan are more likely to interact. The model itself is closely tied to Kata Kolok and is based on the observations of linguists, geneticists and anthropologists (de Vos, 2012), thus having a high level of ecological validity. As the current model is closely tied to features of a real language, it provides a unique opportunity to understand the precise factors allowing for the maintenance of this sign language, hereby providing a novel tool to investigate how language unfolds.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2018
EventInterdisciplinary Approaches in the Language Sciences: International Max Planck Research School for the Language Sciences Conference 2018 - Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen, Netherlands
Duration: 5 Jun 20187 Jun 2018


ConferenceInterdisciplinary Approaches in the Language Sciences: International Max Planck Research School for the Language Sciences Conference 2018
Abbreviated titleIMPRS

ID: 44696342