Interpreting Cross-Modal Differences in the Use of Enactment

Publication type: 
Sébastien Vandenitte
Vandenitte S (2022) Making Referents Seen and Heard Across Signed and Spoken Languages: Documenting and Interpreting Cross-Modal Differences in the Use of Enactment. Front. Psychol. 13:784339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.784339

Differences in language use and structures between signed and spoken languages have often been attributed to so-called language “modality.” Indeed, this is derived from the conception that spoken languages resort to both the oral-aural channel of speech and the visual-kinesic channel of visible bodily action whereas signed languages only resort to the latter. This paper addresses the use of enactment, a depictive communicative strategy whereby language users imitate referents in signed and spoken languages. Reviewing comparative research on enactment, this paper highlights theoretical and methodological shortcomings in prior works. First, a broader set of causal explanations needs to be taken into account when interpreting differences between signing and speaking communities. A more comprehensive conceptual toolbox ensures that differences are not automatically attributed to modality. In particular, less studied factors of language diversity, like sociolinguistic and cultural ecologies, and how  they interact with other factors should be considered. Second, diversity in enactment across signed and spoken languages is shown to be inadequately and insufficiently documented. It is argued that by comparing enactment across more diverse signing and speaking communities and using large, directly comparable corpora, solid analyses can be carried out, enabling a better understanding of how and why different communities use enactment in similar or different ways.

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Frontiers in Psychology