reference tracking, Flemish Sign Language, South African Sign Language, homesigning
The research presented here is part of a lager project set up to gain an insight in the degree of similarity and divergence between two unrelated sign languages, a Western European sign language, i.e. Flemish Sign Language (VGT), and an African sign language, i.e. South African Sign Language (SASL). This particular study offers a comparison of narratives produced by signers of the two sign languages involved, as well as by South African ‘home signers’ (cf. Goldin-Meadow, 2003). It focuses on referent tracking and includes the analysis of the following mechanisms: expressive role-taking (aka. personal transfers), ‘double transfers’, classifier constructions (aka. situational transfers), the use of space with agreement verbs, formal role-taking, lexical NP’s, and a combination of some of these. The results bear out that there are remarkable similarities between all narratives with regard to a number of the studied referent tracking devices. We suggest that this is related to the ‘de l’eau pétillante’ nature of the data. There is a continuum between two different manifestations of sign language use with on the one end a form which makes maximum use of the possibilities offered by the visual-gestural modality (e.g. iconicity, use of space, simultaneity), called de ‘l’eau pétillante’ (sparkling water), and on the other end a form more resembling oral language non-iconic sequential organisation, called ‘de l’eau plate’ (still water) (Vermeerbergen, 2006). Vermeerbergen et al. (2007) focussed on de l’eau plate of isolated declarative sentences in SASL and VGT which yielded a number of striking differences. However, when studying the sparkling water of narratives as in the present study the similarities are very salient.