[PS-1.57] Processing discourse referents in space: An ERP study on German Sign Language

Wienholz, A. , Nuhbalaoglu, D. , Mani, N. & Steinbach, M.

Georg-August-University Goettingen

Sign languages make use of the three-dimensional signing space to express morphosyntactic, semantic and pragmatic functions. Discourse referents (DRs) are introduced and referred back to referential locations (R-loci), i.e. regions in the horizontal plane of the signing space, which are identified by different grammatical (manual or non-manual) localization strategies. However, the question whether the assignment of DRs to R-loci follows a particular pattern, has not been investigated in detail so far. The present event-related potential (ERP) study on German Sign Language (DGS) tests the hypothesis that there is a strong tendency to assign distinct and contrastive R-loci to different DRs even in the absence of overt localization (Steinbach & Onea 2015). We used a mismatch design and recorded ERPs from deaf native signers (N=21) while they judged naturally signed sentence sets containing two different DRs introduced without overt localization. The data show a difference of the two conditions between 500-600ms over central regions. These results support that signers of DGS assign DRs to contrastive and distinct regions covertly. This study is the first attempt to investigate referential processing in DGS experimentally and contributes to the understanding of discourse processing in sign languages in general.