A perfect end: A study of syllable codas in South African Sign Language

Mikhaela D.K. Köhlo, Ian Siebörger, William G. Bennett


South African Sign Language (SASL) is an understudied language with a rich and interesting phonology. For instance, while the language allows onsetless syllables, it does not allow codaless syllables, except in a small class of signs which do not include path movement. This article identifies and defines possible constraints on syllable codas in SASL. Using a video dictionary as data, we have coded handshapes at locations occurring at the onset and coda of the more common signs in the lexicon. In handshape, it has been found that the selected fingers may move to create different handshapes in the coda position, but that these coda handshapes are often [1], [5], [A], [Å] or [S], which are the unmarked handshapes of the non-dominant hand in asymmetrical two-handed signs (Sandler and Lillo-Martin 2006). Furthermore, the joint specification for the selected fingers can also vary in the coda position, but there appear to be strict limitations on which joint combinations are permitted in the onset-coda relationship. There are also constraints on coda location. The major body region can change within a single syllable, and the preferred body regions in the coda position are [body] and [H2]. It is evident not only that handshape and location constraints occur at the coda position, but that these constraints show patterns similar to coda neutralisation in many spoken languages.


South African Sign Language, phonology, Prosodic Model, syllable structure, codas

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5842/52-0-727


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ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

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