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Gaze as a Resource for Productive Signs in Interaction

Background and aims

In interactions, when productive forms are used, the signer has not only to produce the appropriate linguistic form but has additional interactional tasks – for example, of managing turn-taking or monitoring co-participant’s displays of (non-) understanding. For these tasks, the participants’ gaze is a primary resource. This complex use of gaze in conversations for both grammatical and interactional purposes has not yet been systematically examined due to the monologic nature of previous studies of productive signs (noteworthy exceptions are Cuxac, 2000 and Sallandre, 2002 for French Sign Language, LSF). To what extent productive forms are actually produced in interactions is an open question, as most previous studies of productive signs have been based on elicited and monologic data.


This two-year project will focus on how Swiss German Sign Language (Deutschschweizerische Gebärdensprache, DSGS) signers use productive signs in interaction by paying special attention to how they deploy gaze as a resource both for grammar and for interactional purposes. An additional issue is how productive signs are used by deaf early learners of DSGS as compared to their use by hard-of-hearing later learners.


The project addresses this question through an empirical and qualitative analysis of interactions based on both elicited and spontaneous data.

  • Interactional analysis of productive signs
  • Different groups of signers: The study will identify and describe the differences between productive signing between deaf and hard-of-hearing signers
  • Use of the corpus lexicon tool Ilex


This project addresses important current issues in theoretical and applied sign language linguistics, including

  • An analysis of productive forms in interaction with initial evidence for how signers organize linguistic constructions and interactional order by drawing on the same resource, e.g. gaze;
  • a documentation of a minority Swiss language that may undergo important changes in the future due to a changing user population, and 
  • for DSGS teachers and, especially, interpreters, a fine-grained description of productive forms that takes into account their natural occurrence in interaction by these two groups of signers.



Project Management

Dr. phil.   Girard

Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin

Project team


Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

wfd[at] wfd