Nargess Asghari: Animals in the Emerging Family Sign Language of Berbey (Mali) – 16 May 2019

Date:                16 May 2019

Time:               17:00 – 18:00

Location:        Leiden University, Lipsius 3.08

Languages:     English

Translation     International Sign


Animals in the Emerging Family Sign Language of Berbey (Mali)

NARGESS ASGHARI, Leiden University



Cross-linguistic studies have shown that despite variations across languages, universal patterns are found within semantic domains. Universal tendencies in nomenclature and classification of animals and plants (known as folk biology or folk taxonomy) have been the subject of a number of studies in spoken languages (cf. Berlin, Breedlove & Raven, 1973; Brown, 1984; Berlin, 2006). In sign languages, folk biology has not been systematically studied yet. However, cross-linguistic studies of the iconic patterns per semantic domain, including the domain of animal terms, have received major attention in recent years in sign language linguistics (cf. Hwang et al., 2017).

Berbey Sign Language (henceforth: Berbey SL) is an emerging family language in the village of Berbey, Mali. This study looks at iconicity in the semantic domain of animals in Berbey SL and compares it to 10 unrelated sign languages. The analysis is based on the iconic strategy and iconic image in animal signs. Whenever possible, references are made to the studies on folk biology as well. The results of the analysis reveal notable patterns.


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Berlin, B., Breedlove, D. E., & Raven, P. H. (1973). General principles of classification of nomenclature in folk biology. American Anthropologist, 75(1), 214–242.

Brown, H. C. (1984). Language and the living things: uniformities in folk classification and naming. New Brunswick, New York: Rutgers University Press.

Hwang, S. O., Tomita, N., Morgan, H., Ergin, R., İlkbasaran, D., Seegers, S., … Padden, C. (2017). Of the body and the hands: Patterned iconicity for semantic categories. Language and Cognition, 9(4), 573–602.