Grammar and Experience: The Interplay Between Language Awareness and Attitude in Italian Sign Language (LIS)

Sabina Fontana


Shifts in the awareness towards language may lead to new language attitude and to a selection process of certain features among the many forms sign language can have in a community and ultimately to language change. Drawing from usage-based views (Bybee, 2006; Hopper, 1987), from studies on perception and attitudes (McKenzie 2015; Dragojevic et al., 2021) and from ethnography of communication (Hymes, 1974), this paper will investigate with the matched guise and participant observation techniques how specific linguistic features are guided by the participants’ language awareness and attitudes. Ten deaf participants (age range 28-82) were shown four videos with signers using different formal registers of LIS and were asked questions about their signing style in a natural setting. Levels of language awareness were analyzed in the light of Culioli (1990) in accordance with a sign language awareness scale and correlated with language attitudes. Results show that language attitude is shaped by language ideologies and awareness which leads to a selection of communicative patterns made legitimate by the community in the direction of autonomy, purism and identity preservation.

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