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UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre

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Diane Stoianov

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My decidedly non-linguistic introduction to sign language linguistics was through topics in the philosophy of language as a philosophy undergraduate. I became interested in how experiential phenomena could be codified in languages which use the medium of space. In 2016, I completed my MA in Linguistics at UCL. For my MA thesis, working with Andrew Nevins, I provided an account of the phonetic inventory of Maxakalí Sign Language – a sign language used in an indigenous community in Brazil.  With this I became interested in which structural elements one finds in a young language, what factors determine this, and how they are dispersed across a system which is not yet conventionalised.


Currently for my PhD (beginning in 2019), I am working with Prof Nevins and Prof Kearsy Cormier on another emerging sign language in Brazil, Cena (literally: ‘scene’) alongside a local team of hearing and deaf researchers. I’m interested in how signers represent referents through classifiers and other strategies, and how such depictions interact with universal principles of phonology - given that highly iconic forms may be at odds with principles such as ease of articulation or (un)markedness. What can we learn from trade-offs between such motivations? What phonological or linguistic factors may encourage a departure from iconicity in young languages on the road to conventionalisation?

Email: Diane Stoianov