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Sign Language–Spoken Language Bilingualism and the Derivation of Bimodally Mixed Sentences

GERALD P. BERENT

Bimodal Bilingualism

Sign language–spoken language bilingualism, or bimodal bilingualism, is the knowledge of a spoken language, communicated through the oral–aural modality, and a sign language, communicated through the visual–gestural modality. The two modalities are anatomically available conduits of the human language faculty that employ articulatory and receptive mechanisms intrinsic to those modalities. Whereas the vocal tract is the primary locus of spoken language expression and auditory processing the primary vehicle of comprehension, sign language expression is achieved through the production of manual signs in physical space along with nonmanual lexical and grammatical markers involving the head, face, and torso. As visual–gestural languages, sign languages are accessed and com­prehended through visual, rather than auditory, processing. Linearity, or the sequential expression of linguistic elements, is a modality-specific property of spoken languages (with some simultaneity provided via intonation and other suprasegmental mechanisms). In contrast, a modality-specific property of sign languages is their simultaneous expression of linguistic elements, along with sequential expression (Wilbur 2003).

In view of the pervasiveness worldwide of bilingual (and multilingual) societies in which two or more spoken languages are in contact, bilingualism research has almost ...

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