Signing space in expressive and receptive language

When a Deaf person articulates in sign language, which area in this picture does a listener generally focus upon?

signing frame

The hands? Below the face? The eyes? The mouth? The majority of ASL students on the first days of ASL 101 would presume "the hands" when asked one of the questions on an awareness quiz.

The answer is that a listener generally focuses upon the light area in this illustration: the area of the face.

signing space and reception

In addition, the listener may shift from the focal area around the peripheral area (eg. to focus on fingerspelling or classifier constructions).

Despite the fact that they think or believe that the focus was on the hands, in reality they do fixate on the face.

Although, a study shows a difference between Deaf native signers and hearing beginning signers with how they fixate their eye gaze on the face.

Eye gaze fixation by native and beginning signers

In an eye-tracking experiment, deaf native signers and hearing beginning signers listen "while comprehending a short narrative and a spatial description in ASL produced live by a fluent signer." The results?

Eye gaze fixation on sign language
Mean percent of gaze toward locations on the signer's face for each participant group. Bars indicate stan-dard error.

"Both groups fixated primarily on the signer's face (more than 80% of the time) but differed with respect to fixation location."

"Beginning signers fixated on or near the signer's mouth, perhaps to better perceive English mouthing, whereas native signers tended to fixate on or near the eyes."

"Beginning signers shifted gaze away from the signer's face more frequently than native signers, but the pattern of gaze shifts was similar for both groups. When a shift in gaze occurred, the sign narrator was almost always looking at his or her hands and was most often producing a classifier construction."

The conclusion was that "joint visual attention and attention to mouthing (for beginning signers), rather than linguistic complexity or processing load, affect gaze fixation patterns during sign language comprehension." Source

Linguistic processing in the brain

The hands move in a larger space that is easier to perceive in peripheral vision, whereas the face has grammatical and linguistic information that is subtler. Hence, it might be a natural way to fixate on the face with shifts from the face for the most optimal linguistic processing.

The signing frame

The best way of setting up a video frame is from the head to the waist in a horizontal orientation. The image demonstrates an ideal area for a video to shoot the narrator.

signing space in video

The light area is generally the maximum boundary line where a visual-kinetic speaker usually sign around within this area. The face and chest-level space are the most used area in signing production.

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