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Lecture | Workshop

The Leiden-Birmingham lectures: Comparative Cross Modal Linguistics

Wednesday 21 February 2024 - Thursday 22 February 2024
Lipsius & Matthias de Vrieshof

Day 1 – Wednesday 21st February 2024

Location: room 1.48 in the Lipsius building. Address: Cleveringaplaats 1 2311 BD Leiden

Comparative and descriptive linguistic studies have been fundamental to understanding how languages are constructed, connected, and change. However, an important caveat is that text and speech, respectively, have been the cornerstone of these investigations, leaving aside all forms of linguistic expression in the manual visual modality. The body is the central vehicle for expression in the sign languages of deaf communities, as well as the gestures co-occurring with speech in hearing communities. Yet for centuries, signing and gesture have been marginalised linguistic phenomena that have not merited cross-linguistic description or comparison. This marginalisation is finally, however, starting to change. In these talks, experts will describe a series of studies comparing related and unrelated sign languages, as well as sign languages with the gestures of the local hearing communities. The picture that emerges is that unrelated sign languages exhibit a large degree of resemblance in their vocabularies which can be attributed to universal ways of exploiting the body for depiction. These studies will also report that iconicity is a feature that promotes lexical similarity in a range of signed structures, but that social and community-specific factors impact how iconicity is produced, perceived, and learned. The aim of these talks is to encourage discussion between scholars in various sub-disciplines of linguistics to discuss if and how comparative cross-modal linguistics can contribute to existing theories of language.

14:00 – 14:05 Claartje Levelt (Leiden University) & Gerardo Ortega (University of Birmingham) Opening remarks
14:05 – 14:35 Victoria Nyst (Leiden University) ‘Iconicity in gesturing and signing: universals and variation’
14:35 – 15:05 Annika Schiefner (University of Cologne and University of Birmingham) ‘Iconicity shapes lexical similarity: the case of British Sign Language (BSL) and German Sign Language (DGS)’
15:05 – 15:10 Comfort break  
15:10 – 15:40 Gerardo Ortega 
(University of Birmingham)
‘Iconic gestures act as manual cognates in sign learning’ 
15:40 – 16:00 Kate Bellamy (Leiden University) Discussion


Day 2 – Thursday 22nd February 2024

Location: room 006a in the Matthias de Vrieshof. Addres: Matthias de Vrieshof 1 2311 BZ Leiden

9:00 – 11:00 Postgraduate roundtable PhD students and postdocs are invited to give a 5 min-presentation of their work and highlight some of the challenges they are currently facing (data coding, statistical analysis, ethics, publication, archiving, dissemination, glossing, amongst any others). These will be discussed amongst all delegates and potential solutions will be identified. This will be an informal meeting so there is no need to prepare a Power Point.
11:00-11:15 Comfort break   
11:15 – 12:15 Seedbed of ideas Researcher from Leiden and Birmingham will close the event with an informal conversation summarising the take-home message of the lectures and postgraduate roundtable.
12:15 – 13:30 Lunch and departure to Birmingham  


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